US Navy Ensign Muctarr Bah, speaks with Capt. Anil Komao from the Indian Navy, as they man the bridge during a replenishment-at-sea exercise. Photo: US Navy

Three figures influential in Indian defense circles told a top US think tank this week that, while maintaining a pragmatic set of alliances, India is also looking for a strategic partner to work with its private defense contractors to significantly upgrade its capabilities to better counter China, specifically, as well as other regional threats.

The report in USNI News said the panel, which included a former Indian ambassador and retired generals, made the comments Monday at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington — ahead of President Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Donald Trump on Sunday.

Retired Brig. Arun Sahgal said it was crucial that the democratic regional powers — especially Japan, Australia, the United States and India — work to together “to harness China” and its territorial and hegemonic ambitions to provide “stability not containment.” Ahuja noted that India and the United States have expanded their joint naval exercises, stressing anti-submarine warfare and special operations and New Delhi has sent its navy to the large Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise.

Hemant Kirshan Singh, the former Indian ambassador to Japan, was quoted as saying the Modi government’s goal is to maintain “pragmatic partnerships with all major powers,” including China but “the U.S. relationship is at the apex” of its foreign and security policy.

In his opening remarks, Singh said, “To China, India does not and will not kow-tow.” He added, “Ties can only be built by mutual respect.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Amil Ahuja, former deputy chief of India’s Integrated Defense Staff, pointed to the 2015 Defense Technology and Trade Initiative as a way to strengthen that relationship and have the United States be that strategic partner in co-producing new fighter aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, submarines and fighting vehicles.

The Indian panel noted that after five months in office, the Trump administration has shown little interest in the larger Indo-Pacific security situation that includes the South China Sea reef reclamation projects. They said the White House has concentrated instead on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Reuters quotes a source as saying that the US is expected to approve India’s purchase of a naval variant of of Predator drone as Modi visits the US and meets with Trump for the first time.

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