US President Donald Trump’s first visit to India is coming up from February 24 to 25 and presents major opportunities for US-India trade and defense cooperation. India’s external affairs ministry has confirmed that the President and First Lady Melania Trump will participate in official engagements in New Delhi and Gujarat, and interact with a wide cross-section of Indian society on their visit. There will also be additional important considerations and factors in the trip, especially on trade and defense.

Combat Aircraft Deal With India Is A Strong Possibility

With changing equations on the Indian sub-continent, the United States and its aerospace giants are keen to develop closer military ties with India. Lockheed Martin has exclusively offered its newly-rolled out F-21 fighter to India and promised to set up a manufacturing facility in India if the company bags a contract.

“We are open to any requirement from the government of India or the Indian Air Force for any help for the Tejas as well as the AMCA (Advanced Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) project,” Vivek Lall, vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Lockheed Martin told PTI in an interview. Although Lall did not divulge more specifics, choosing the American F-21 fighter would link India to a global aerospace ecosystem worth 165 billion US dollars.

Boeing Also Wants To Sell Fighter Jets to the Indian Air Force

Boeing has also expressed interest in supplying F-15EX fighter jets to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and has sought a license from the US authorities to export to India. The move is being seen as an attempt by Boeing and Lockheed Martin to remain in contention for the $18 billion in contracts which the IAF has in order to procure 114 fighter jets. This amount is one of the world’s biggest military procurements in recent years.

Growing Indian Economy Offers Immense Opportunities for US Companies

According to analysts, the US increasingly sees India as a major market for its defense and other products. During the visit, both the strategic partners—the US and India—are expected to further expand defense and military cooperation. The US has already approved the sale of an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System (IADWS) to India for approximately 1.9 billion USD to strengthen its existing air defense architecture to counter threats posed by air attacks. India is likely to gain in defense trade and technology sharing to a level matching with that of the USA’s closest allies and partners.

Defense and security ties have been on the rise between India and the US in the last six years. There are indications that Trump’s visit will further deepen defense ties between the two strategic partners. Reportedly, the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security may approve the purchase of 30 MQ9 Predator drones and 24 MH—6OR Seahawk helicopters with Hellfire missiles, radars, and torpedoes at a cost of 2.6 billion USD.

Both nations have insisted on joint ventures and collaboration between private sectors of the two countries in defense manufacturing. India and the United States are both keen to transform the long friendship between two of the largest democracies into a long-term global strategic partnership. According to trade observers, Trump also sees India as a counterbalance to China, as India possesses a huge market with high potential for US investors. In addition to partnering on defense, Washington is eager to have greater access to the vast Indian consumer market and a US-India free trade agreement would also be a major achievement for the Trump administration that would boost Trump’s quest for a second term in November.

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