Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma will visit the United States next week. Admiral Verma's first trip to the U.S. comes days ahead of Defence Minister A.K. Antony's scheduled visit.

The visit is yet another step in the growing strategic defence relations and engagement between the armed forces of the two countries. Admiral Verma will tour several places, including Washington and Hawaii, headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), and witness the progress of the P-8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft the Indian Navy is procuring from the U.S.

The Naval Chief's trip reciprocates the visits by U.S. PACOM Commander Admiral Robert F. Willard this week and Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead in April.

On Thursday Admiral Willard had indicated that both India and the U.S. have to work in the domain of cyber space and outer space, and it is likely that Admiral Verma will utilise the opportunity to interact in these spheres.

The P8I is based on the Boeing 737 commercial airplane and is a variant of the P-8A Poseidon that the company is developing for the U.S. Navy. India is the first overseas buyer for the aircraft. An agreement was signed in January 2009 for eight aircraft, with the first due to be delivered in 48 months.

Assembly of the first aircraft is due to begin in the last quarter of this year after the Indian Navy completed the final design review in July. This effectively locked the design for the aircraft, radar, communications, navigation, mission computing, acoustics and sensors as well as the ground and test support equipment, paving the way for the programme to start assembly of the plane, Boeing said.

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will provide weapons bay door for the eight P-8I aircraft. Under the terms of the $4.7 million-contract, the HAL will deliver the first set of doors to Boeing in Seattle by the end of the year, the company said.

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