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US defence secy visit: Eye on China, drone deal on table

Sources says deliberations over a partnership for procuring drones could be crucial as both countries are keen to keep an eye on increasing movement of Chinese navy vessels, including submarines

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US defence secy visit: Eye on China, drone deal on table
James Mattis
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Drone deals for maritime surveillance in the wake of increased Chinese presence in Indian Ocean region and fighter jets under 'Make in India' are expected to be on top of the agenda during the visit of US Defence Secretary James Mattis.

Sources said deliberations over a partnership for procuring drones could be crucial as both countries are keen to keep an eye on increasing movement of Chinese navy vessels, including submarines. The Chinese Navy has parked its fleets in ports like Djibouti, Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Rakine (Myanmar).

"This has been a concern for India of late and increasing our maritime surveillance capabilities is a priority," government sources said.

The US Secretary of Defence will meet Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Mattis will also meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval apart from Prime Minster Narendra Modi. His visit is aimed at giving a push to enhance Indo-US defence cooperation.

A separate meeting is also on the cards with the three service chiefs and the Defence Minister on Monday evening, government sources said. This will be prior to the official meetings scheduled for September 26–27.

US designated India as a major defence partner last year and Mattis'visit is likely to take this forward and draw a blueprint for military cooperation between the two countries.

A discussion is also expected on F-16 and F-18 fighter jets being manufactured by US majors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which are eyeing a deal under the Strategic Partnership model of the Indian government. Lockheed Martin has struck a partnership with Tata Group to set up a production line for F-16s in India.

This will close the gap of the desired requirement of at least 200 such jets by the Indian Air Force. The single-engine jets are expected to phase out the Russian MiG 21 and Mig-27 by 2024.

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