New Delhi: Secretary of the United States Air Force Deborah Lee James will discuss a possible joint production of combat planes in India during her coming visit later this month.
She will travel to India as part of a maiden visit to four Asian countries that includes Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. She will also discuss the situation in the South China Sea, as well as the growing threat of terrorism during this visit to the region.
James told reporters in New York today that she would endeavour to take partnership of the two nations “to the next level” and to see “how can we deepen our partnerships”.
Co-production of a combat aircraft can be useful militarily while boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Make in India programme, James said, when asked about the ties between India and the U.S. on fighter jets and jet engines that were previously proposed during the then visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to India in April this year.
American firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing have formally offered their F-16 and F/A-18 combat planes for a possible local manufacturing in India to help its Air Force to plug gaps in its combat fleet. The two companies are competing with Swedish Saab, which has offered the Gripen E to bag an order after Modi reduced a possible 126-plane deal with France‘s Dassault Aviation to 36 planes in April 2015.
“I am also aware of the prime minister’s push for ‘Make in India‘ and the importance of creating new jobs in that sector,” she said. “One of the proposals you mentioned, of course, is to co-produce certain aircraft in India. So that will be an example of something that will be useful from a military standpoint and might play also into the ‘Make in India’ campaign.”
James said she would be discussing with her Indian counterparts about the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) that received a boost during Carter’s visit and his meetings with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, and specifically “what are the possible outcomes of that from the Air Force perspective”.
She will be seeking the views of her counterparts on the various bilateral proposals on the table, what more needed to happen to make progress on them. She, however, noted that while some proposals will move forward, others may not if they are not the right fit.
During her visit, the top U.S. Air Force official is scheduled to meet Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar and the IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. She will also be speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce in India CEO Roundtable.
James is placing emphasis on U.S. defence sales and trying to streamline the process. She acknowledged that carrying out transactions under foreign military sales (FMS) programme of the U.S. is a slow process involving also the White House, the State Department and Congress leading to complaints from some foreign officials about delays.