United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in India Thursday for a three-day visit. Hagel’s trip comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to India a few days ago. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker also visited India recently. The fact that these high-profile trips by American officials have occurred so close to one another indicates the resurgence of American interest in India. Furthermore, the emergence of a strong, decisive, and reformist government under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India has suddenly put India back on the U.S. agenda. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen on reminding the world that India is a large country that cannot be ignored and whose interests must be taken seriously.
Secretary Hagel is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s Defense and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley this Friday, as well as U.S. and Indian defense company executives. Talks are expected to be fruitful for both countries.
Hagel is in India to strengthen defense ties between the two nations. Although the two nations have been moving closer over the past decade, they have not become as close as some U.S. policymakers would have liked. In fact, events of the past year, including India’s support for Russia in Crimea and the Devyani Khobragade case, show the limitations of a U.S.-India relationship.
Nonetheless, both countries are interested in strengthening defense ties when possible, as they still share many common interests, including stability in Afghanistan, as well as concerns over China. It is unlikely that India and the U.S. will remain on anything but cordial terms, despite some occasional bumps. Secretary Hagel himself recognized this, stating that U.S. relationships with new partners in Asia represented both opportunities and challenges. The Wall Street Journal quotes Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, as saying that “Secretary Hagel’s meetings will focus on the United States’ and India’s converging interests in the Asia Pacific, our common interests in Afghanistan and initiatives to strengthen our defense cooperation, including military exercises, defense, trade, co-production and co-development and research.”
One of Secretary Hagel’s goals is to seek more defense projects between the two countries. There is much scope for this. India is the largest importer of U.S. arms, although it still imports up to 75 percent of its arms from Russia. The two countries are close to finalizing a $1.4 billion deal in which India will buy at least 22 U.S. Apache and 15 Chinook helicopters made by Boeing, as well as other aircraft.
Discussion of this deal will be at the top of Hagel’s agenda during his visit. India is also keen on bringing in more foreign investment in its defense sector, so it can meet more of its defense needs indigenously. India is becoming increasingly ambitious on this front, building, for example, ever-larger warships in India. U.S. investment in India’s defense sector could bolster India’s ability to meet its security needs and be another way in which both the U.S. and India cooperate and profit together. Hagel may also discuss a U.S. offer to jointly develop and produce the next generation of the Javelin missile in India for the Indian market as well for export.
Analysts are optimistic on the outcome of Hagel’s visit to India. According to Vivek Lall, a former Boeing executive and current chairman of the aerospace and defense committee of the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, “this visit could be the inflection point of deeper defense ties between both countries, specifically to help boost defense production and state-of-the-art technology absorption.”