WASHINGTON (AFX) - The defense ministers of the US and India have signed a 10-year agreement paving the way for joint weapons production, cooperation on missile defense and possible lifting of US export controls for sensitive military technologies.
'The United States and India have entered a new era,' a statement said after the signing by US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, who is on a visit to Washington.
'We are transforming our relationship to reflect our common principles and shared national interests,' it said of the so-called New framework for the US-India defense relationship' signed at the Pentagon.
The ministers agreed to set up a 'defense procurement and production group' to oversee defense trade, as well as prospects for co-production and technology collaboration,' and to sign deals on military 'research, development, testing and evaluation' as well as naval pilot training.
The military pact came three months after the US unveiled plans to help India become a 'major world power in the 21st century' and ahead of a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the invitation of President George W Bush from July 18 to 20.
Singh is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Washington has given the greenlight to Lockheed Martin and Boeing to offer F-16 and F-18 warplanes as candidates for the Indian Air Force's multi-role fighter program, while also pledging support for Indian requests for other transformative systems in areas such as command and control, early warning, and missile defense.
India has relied so far on French and Russian frontline fighters.
The United States also might train Indian naval pilots in strategic aircraft carrier operations, reports have suggested.