NEW DELHI (TIP): A 26-member delegation led by General Vincent K Brooks, commanding general of the US Army Pacific, will be in New Delhi on March 18-20 for the 18th meeting of the India-US executive steering group (ESG). The Indian delegation, in turn, will be led by director-general of military operations Lt-General P R Kumar during the talks.

“The ESG will discuss measures to further crank up military-to-military ties through joint combat exercises, doctrinal and operational exchanges. The two armies are slated to conduct their annual Yudh Abhyas counterterrorism exercise at Chaubatia (Uttarakhand) in July- August this year,” said an official. The exercise, the last edition of which was held at Fort Bragg in the US last May, was to be held earlier this year but got delayed by a few months amid the diplomatic wrangling during the Devyani Khobragade episode.

The expansive India-US defense cooperation over the last decade has seen the armed forces from the two countries conduct over 70 exercises, including the highend Malabar naval combat exercises. India has also invited Japan to join the Malabar war games in August- September this year, an offer which was extended during Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visit here in January. The US has already bagged defense deals close to $10 billion over the last decade in the lucrative Indian defense market, with the latest being the $1.01 billion one for six additional C-130J “Super Hercules” aircraft.

The other deals on the anvil are the ones for 22 Apache attack helicopters, 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, four P-8I maritime patrol aircraft and 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers, together worth another $4 billion or so. Desperate to displace Russia as India’s largest defense supplier, the US is promising to treat India on par with its closest allies like the UK and Australia for providing cutting-edge military technology.

Towards this end, the US has also managed to almost scuttle an almost-finalized over Rs 15,000 crore project with Israel to equip the over 380 infantry battalions of the Indian Army with third-generation, shoulder-fired antitank guided missiles (ATGMs). After the US initially created roadblocks in the transfer of technology (ToT) for its “Javelin” ATGMs, India had turned to the Israeli “Spike” ATGMs for the project. India is keen on an initial import of the tank-killing missiles followed by ToT to defense Public Sector Unit Bharat Dynamics for indigenous manufacture. But after the US recently offered a joint project to manufacture the next-generation of ATGMs, the Indian defense ministry says both the Israeli and American proposals are now being studied to select the better option.

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