New York: Indo-US cooperation in defence technology and trade initiatives will be the focus of the US Air Force Secretary's upcoming visit to India during which she will also discuss with top Indian officials proposals to co-produce aircrafts in India.
Deborah Lee James will travel to India later this month as part of a maiden visit to four Asian countries that would also take her to Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines and will discuss the situation in the South China sea as well as the growing threat of terrorism.
During her visit to India, she will meet Chief of Air Staff Marshal Arup Raha and Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar and will also discuss with her Indian counterparts proposals to co-produce aircrafts in India in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious 'Make in India' campaign.
"We will be looking to see how can we deepen our partnerships and how can we take it to the next level," James said in response to a question by PTI at a press briefing in New York on Wednesday on what her focus will be during her visit to India.
She said she will discuss defence technology and follow up on the trade initiatives, which were launched during US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter's visit to India in April.
James replied in the affirmative when asked if she will follow up on American defence major Lockheed Martin's proposals to assemble F-16s in India as well as on discussions to collaborate in bolstering India's fighter jets and the jet engine technology working group.
"I will be following up on all of those topics, discussing these counterpart to counterpart on a bilateral basis. I will be seeking the views of my counterparts, what their opinion is on the various proposals on the table and what more needs to happen to advance the ball on some of these proposals.
"I am also aware of the Prime Minister's push for Make in India and the importance of creating new jobs in that sector. One of the proposals would be to co-produce certain aircrafts in India and that might be one example of something that will be useful from a military standpoint but also might play into the Make in India campaign," she said.
James said she would also follow up on the initiatives launched during Carter's visit and the possible outcomes of it from the Air Force perspective.
She, however, noted that while some proposals will move forward, others may not if they are not the right fit.
Describing the Indian Air Force as a "very effective fighting unit", she said it has been a participant over the years in "red-flag" exercise series, where the US gets together with coalition partners to train and inter-operate and "test ourselves in a high-end and very challenging difficult environment".
James added that she also looks forward to congratulating India on the "magnificent execution" of the operation undertaken to evacuate Indian citizens from South Sudan.
James said she also looks forward to "congratulating the Chief of Air Force in particular on what is I think a magnificent execution of the C-17 operation where Indian citizens were evacuated from South Sudan. Well done on that, well done.
India had launched 'Operation Sankat Mochan' to evacuate about 600 of its citizens from the war-torn country. The Indians were ferried back to the country by Indian Air Force carrier C-17 Globemasters.
James leads a globally deployed force of nearly 660,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian Airmen and oversees the Air Force's annual budget of more than USD 139 billion.
The focus of her visit to the Asian countries, her first as Air Force Secretary, will be to underscore US support for efforts that bring peace, security, and prosperity to the Asia-Pacific region and to seek opportunities to deepen and expand the relationship between US and ally air forces.
"The future that the US would like to see in the Indo-Asia Pacific region is a future where we are all working, collaborating and training together and not just in a military sense but in a political and economic sense also," she said.
"Freedom of navigation and legal use of the sea and airspace is a central part of this idea of cooperation and that is why the Air Force and the US Navy have engaged in freedom of navigation operations. We will fly and operate wherever international law allows and we believe that is the right of all countries to do so," she said.
Asserting that the US considers the recent ruling from The Hague on South China Sea to be "legally binding on all parties", she said Washington hopes that "all of the claimants in the South China Sea will exercise restraint in the future and will work to lower tensions".
"We certainly support the peaceful resolution of the disputes in this region. I look forward to discussing this and other matters with my counterparts during the visit in the region," she said, adding that the US stands "very firmly" behind the principle of freedom of navigation.