Carrying forward Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump's assertion during the latter's visit to India on further strengthening defence and strategic ties, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper will hold bilateral talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh here March 16-17. Besides reviewing growing military ties, the two leaders are also expected to focus on defence trade. At present, India has procured weapons worth over 18 billion dollars in the last few years.

Esper's visit comes days after Modi on February 25 said during the joint press conference with Trump here increasing the bilateral defence and security cooperation is a very key aspect of “one of the most important partnerships” of the 21st century. He also announced that the two countries decided to have comprehensive global partnership thereby giving a strong fillip to strategic ties. Trump announced that the two countries have finalised defence deals worth USD 3 billion and asserted that their focus was on having a comprehensive trade deal.

The relations between the two countries have never been as good as they are now, Trump said, adding that the countries have made “wonderful deal”.

Talking about defence and strategic ties between the two countries, Trump said the US is looking forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet.

“We make the greatest weapons ever made: airplanes, missiles, rockets, ships. We make the best. And we're dealing now with India. But this includes advanced air defence systems and armed and unarmed aerial vehicles,” Trump said after announcing the three billion dollar deal for 24 naval multi-role helicopters and six Apache attack helicopters.

In this backdrop the Indian and US Defence Ministers will take stock of the defence ties including further enhancing joint training amongst all the three Services and exchange of officers for courses in each other's country. 

The two leaders are also likely to review the progress made in further promoting joint ventures to manufacture frontline weapons in India besides access to cutting-edge defence technology of the US, sources said here on Wednesday. These projects come under the ambit Defence Trade and Technology Initiative inked between the two countries some years ago.

India and US are in advanced stage of negotiations for some defence deals and the two defence ministers may also review their progress, officials said. The proposed deals include six more P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft ($1.8 billion), the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II for the missile shield over Delhi ($1.8 billion), 30 Sea Guardian armed drones (over $2.5 billion) and 13 big MK-45 naval gun systems for warships ($1.02 billion).

The US may also push its case for selling their fighter jets F-18, , F-15EX(upgraded version of F-16) or F-21 for the big 'Make in India' project to manufacture 114 jets for the IAF. 

The proposed contract is worth over 20 billion dollars. The US is also in the race to sell 57 multi-role fighter jets capable of operating from aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy.

As regards the DTTI projects, the two countries have earmarked seven systems for joint development and production. These include air-launched small aerial systems (drone swarms), light-weight small arms technology, intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance(ISTAR) systems and anti-drone technology.