US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the US Pacific Command. Photo: AFP

Admiral Harry Harris, the chief of the US Pacific Command (USPACOM), is publicly supporting the sale of the advanced F-35 stealth fighter to India, according to a report in India-based StratPost, a website dedicated to South Asian defense and strategic affairs.

StratPost says it’s the first public statement made by a top US official, either civilian or military, on a possible Indian order for the F-35, which is already being sold to Japan and South Korea. Harris, who is known for a hawkish stance on defense issues, has been nominated to be the next US ambassador to Australia.

“At the moment, India is considering a number of US systems for purchase, all of which USPACOM fully supports: the F-16 for India’s large single-engine, multi-role fighter acquisition program; the F/A-18E for India’s multi-engine, carrier-based fighter purchase; a reorder of 12-15 P-8Is; a potential purchase of SeaGuardian UAS; MH-60R multi-role sea-based helicopter; and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,” StratPost quoted Harris as saying in a hearing held by the US House Armed Services Committee last month.

The US and India have been discussing expanded defense cooperation under a new Indo-Pacific strategy as a counterweight to China’s ambitions in the region. But StartPost noted the “reference to a sale of the fifth generation F-35 has never been made before by any US government official and represents a shift in their willingness to bring it up for discussion with India.”

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