US defense secretary talks strengthening India-US relations to confront China 2023

Officials said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin addressed improving ties with India, a key arms customer, on Monday as both countries battle with China’s economic expansion and rising belligerence.

Austin and Rajnath Singh discussed military, clean energy, and space technology alliances. India is gaining technologies and reducing its dependence on imports, especially from Russia, its major military gear supplier despite the Ukraine crisis.

“I’m returning to India to discuss strengthening our Major Defense Partnership with key leaders. “Together, we’re advancing a shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin tweeted after arriving in New Delhi on Sunday.

Austin, on his second visit to India, was supposed to prepare for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June 22 visit to Washington, when defense contracts may be announced.

US defense secretary talks about improving relations with India.

Defense expert Rahul Bedi claimed India wants to acquire 18 armed high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. for $1.5 billion to $2 billion. Bedi claimed the UAVs will be positioned throughout its volatile borders with China and Pakistan and in the key Indian Ocean.

Indian media said that the U.S.-India Defense Policy Group met last month in Washington to explore cooperative development of combat aircraft engines, infantry combat vehicles, howitzers, and their precise munitions.

After attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin landed in New Delhi. Austin advocated for Washington’s “free, open, and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights” as the best way to confront Chinese aggressiveness in the area.

At the conference, China’s Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu said the U.S. has been “deceiving and exploiting” Asia-Pacific states to maintain “its dominant position.”

Li claimed that Washington has been maintaining “remnants of the Cold War” and forming new alliances like the AUKUS agreement with Britain and Australia and the Quad grouping with Australia, India, and Japan “to divide the world into ideologically-driven camps and provoke confrontation.”

India has been buying armaments from the U.S., France, Germany, and others to balance its relations with Washington and Moscow.

India-U.S. defense trade rose from near nil in 2008 to over $20 billion in 2020. The US sold India long-range maritime patrol aircraft, C-130 transport aircraft, missiles, and drones.

Experts claim up to 60% of Indian army equipment originates from Russia, and New Delhi is in a bind as it faces a three-year border stalemate with China in eastern Ladakh, where tens of thousands of soldiers are stationed within gunshot distance. 2020 clashes killed 20 Indian and 4 Chinese forces.

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