US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter will sign a fresh 10-year defence framework agreement with India on Wednesday entailing joint development and manufacture of defence equipment and technology that is expected to help take strategic ties to new heights.
Carter, who arrived in the country on Tuesday on a three-day visit, began his tour with a trip to strategically important Eastern Naval Command in Vishakapatnam whose theatre of operation includes the critical South China sea region and the Strait of Malacca.
He will hold wide-ranging talks with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday evening during which India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative will be a major area of focus, defence sources said.
The US Defence Secretary will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi besides meeting External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
“Carter's trip to India is part of his focus on the US re-balance to Asia. Specifically, his trip to Vishakapatnam showcased his commitment to maritime security and the need for a regional security architecture that creates transparency and trust among regional partners,” a statement by the US Embassy said in New Delhi.
The US is in the process of re-balancing its naval assets into the Asia-Pacific and it is wooing India to be its partner in the region.
American navy plans to shift 60 per cent of its maritime assets to the Pacific by 2020.
The American statement said the "positive momentum" in bilateral ties is especially tangible as Carter will sign the 2015 US-India Defence Framework Agreement with Parrikar, which will help expand the defence relationship between the two countries.
The agreement, decided during the visit of US President Barack Obama to India in January, will focus on issues ranging from maritime security, aircraft carrier to jet engine technology cooperation and joint training.
Carter is accompanied by his wife Stephanie and a 13-member US delegation.
During the visit to Vishakapatnam, Carter interacted with Vice Admiral B K Verma, Chief of Staff, Eastern Naval Command and held discussions on issues of "common interest", a Navy statement said.
The secretary visited the indigenous stealth frigate, INS Sahyadri, prior to his departure to New Delhi.
The visit comes as US re-balances itself to Asia Pacific.
A top Pentagon official had in March termed China's ongoing territorial dispute with countries like Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam over the South China Sea as "provocative".
"And it causes tensions to be raised in the South China Sea with all the other countries in the region. I am concerned about it. I think it is an issue of concern for all of us," Commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris had said during his visit to New Delhi.
This is Carter's first visit to India as Secretary of Defence. He had earlier visited India in September 2013 and July 2012 as Deputy Secretary of Defence.
As deputy secretary, Carter was the main architect of the DTTI, and advocated support for treating India at the same level as their closest partner in terms of extent and level of technology transfer, co-development, co-production and collaborative ventures, expedited approval process for licences among others, the Defence Ministry said in another statement.