With US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel set to visit India tomorrow, noted American experts said his maiden trip to the country, in the early days of the new government, will give a much-needed thrust to the Indo-US defense ties. Hagel, the second US cabinet minister to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this week, will be accompanied by a high-power delegation of military leadership. The Defense Secretary, during his three-day visit will hold talks with Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, and is also expected to meet National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. "The purpose of this trip is to nurture the relationship and not to ink any deal," Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Admiral John Kirby told PTI ahead of the trip. Hagel's meetings will focus on the converging interests of India and the US in the Asia Pacific, their common interests in Afghanistan and initiatives to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation, including military exercises, defense, trade, co-production and co-development, and research and new technologies, Kirby said. Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, Puneet Talwar will also accompany Hagel. "Bilateral defence ties are stronger than they have ever been, and poised to deepen further," said Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relation. "On matters of strategy, a high-fidelity conversation between Hagel and Jaitley about regional security will build confidence between the two new counterparts," Ayres said. According to Richard M Rossow, Wadhwani Chair in US India Policy Studies, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, India US defense ties have been the ballast for the relationship in the last year. "Losing the MMRCA bid was painful, but the Department of Defense rebounded quickly, launching the Defense Trade Technology Initiative (DTTI).
Defense sales by American firms are increasing, and joint exercises - highlighted by the recent Exercise Malabar," he said. "Anything really big that is close to ready for announcement would typically be held for when the two heads of state meet in September," Rossow said.