New Delhi: India and the United States will conduct a joint study of needs of an Indian missile defence system and look at the likely level of cooperation that the US could extend to the programme, according to US defence secretary, Robert Gates. The secretary stressed that talks along these lines were only in their early stages.
"We're just beginning to talk about perhaps conducting a joint analysis about what India's needs would be in the realm of missile defence and where cooperation between us might help advance that," Gates told reporters.
Gates' announcement comes in the wake of persistent reports in the media that US aerospace majors, such as Lockheed Martin with its Patriot system, were keen to involve themselves with India's homespun ballistic missile defence (BMD) programme, which has made impressive progress over the last year or so.
Other aerospace majors, apart from Lockheed, who could become partners in such a programme include Boeing Co, Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp, all of whom have developed advanced systems in the air, sea and space based segments of a BMD system.
In his interaction with the media, Gates sought to play down the commercial aspect of a budding military interaction with India saying that the US was interested in building a long-term relationship with the country.
He also noted that such a relationship was independent of the fate of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, which is facing domestic opposition in India and a degree of skepticism in the US.
"We're not looking for quick results or big leaps forward," Gates told reporters.
"But rather a steady expansion of this relationship in a way that leaves everybody comfortable that we're not moving too fast and that works in terms of Indian domestic politics and also works for us."
Meanwhile he expressed his pleasure at the recent sanction of a billion-dollar contract to Lockheed for the supply of six C-130J transport aircraft.
"I expressed our pleasure obviously with the purchase by India of the six C-130Js. There are some other deals in the works," Gates said. He did not reveal details.
Gates obviously did not miss out on the chance of making a pitch for the 126-medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender for the Indian Air Force. "We asked no special treatment. We simply are pleased to have a place at the table and we believe that in a fair competition we have a very good case to make," he said.
"I indicated that we obviously are interested and believe that we are very competitive in the selection of the new fighter," he said.
Apart from American contenders, Lockheed and Boeing, Russia's MiG-35, France's Dassault Rafale, Sweden's Saab KAS-39 Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by a consortium of British, German, Italian and Spanish companies are competing for the MMRCA tender.
On the Indo-US nuclear deal, Gates did strike a warning note. Though there was no deadline on India's acceptance of the deal, Gates said that time could be running out.
"The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of this agreement implemented," Gates said.