India and the U.S. must turn from defence purchases to “co-development” and not allow “red tape” to halt the progress in defence ties, visiting American Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Saturday.
Mr. Hagel, who wrapped up a two-day visit to Delhi and meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, spoke to a gathering of India’s strategic community at the Observer Research Foundation.
Mr. Hagel’s speech marked a shift in the U.S.’s focus on defence sales to India by acknowledging the government’s desire for indigenisation of defence equipment and more technology transfers. “India and the U.S. must work towards transforming our nations’ defence cooperation from simply buying and selling to co-production, co-development, and freer exchange of technology,” Mr. Hagel said.
During his visit to Delhi, India and the U.S. agreed to reactivate the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative, with both sides designating a senior official to work on coordinating joint deals.
Mr. Hagel said the U.S. was pitching a “pilot plan” to “co-produce and co-develop” Javelin infra-red-guided anti-tank missiles as well. No agreements were announced during Mr. Hagel’s visit, but the U.S. is hopeful of concluding sales of Apache and Chinook helicopters, M777 howitzer guns and other equipment to cap about $10 billion of defence deals over the past decade.
Mr. Hagel said the U.S. “recognises India’s role in regional security” on Afghanistan. Remarks in 2011 by then Senator Hagel had invited criticism here when he had said “India has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has funded problems for Pakistan from that side of the border.”
In Delhi, Mr. Hagel seemed to distance himself from those remarks, and in an answer to a question posed by The Hindu , he said, “Afghanistan is in India’s neighbourhood and India has a critical responsibility in terms of its security.”
The Afghan situation after the troop pullout was a key part of the discussion between Mr. Hagel and Mr. Modi on Friday.