From an offer to train Indian naval pilots to posting an Indian officer in the Pacific Command and possibly in the Florida-based Central Command as well, Washington is ready with a slew of proposals for Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee as he begins his US trip tonight.
Although a careful Mukherjee has called the visit ‘‘exploratory,’’ these proposals are expected to be discussed when he meets US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Sources said that Washington will offer to train Indian naval pilots in strategic aircraft-carrier operations. The proposal to have an Indian officer at the Hawaii-based Pacific Command is meant for improved coordination in the Indian Ocean.
Although Mukherjee and his Defence Secretary are studying the proposals, the Indian diplomatic establishment has already done its homework with a visit to the Pacific Command. That the US wants to upgrade the military relationship with India is clear from the fact that only Japan, South Korea and Australia have liaison officers based at the Hawaii command.
Incidentally, the NDA, too, led by its External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had discussed the idea of an Indian presence in this command with Washington.
The aircraft-carrier pilot training will be done at the Naval Air Training Command at Pensacola in Florida. This school was established in 1914 and has given over 100,000 ‘‘wings of gold’’ to naval pilots using 16 squadrons for training aircraft. It offers year-long training in naval helicopter, propeller or multi-engine and strike warfare operations.
Though the Indian Navy trains its carrier pilots at INS Hansa at Goa and on-board its sole aircraft carrier Viraat, it needs help to train pilots using ‘‘catapult’’ operations. This is because Navy will be shifting from vertical take-off and landing aircraft Sea Harrier, deployed on Viraat, to MiG-29 K that will use a steam powered catapult on-board Admiral Gorshkov or INS Vikramaditya. The new aircraft carrier is likely to join the Navy in 2007.