Mattis to visit India

By Justin Doubleday / September 22, 2017 at 4:36 PM

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will travel to India next week, as lawmakers call for the Defense Department to strengthen its ties with the South Asian country.

Between Sept. 26 and Sept. 28, Mattis will be in India to meet both Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to a Friday statement released by the Pentagon.

"The secretary will emphasize that the United States views India as a valued and influential partner, with broad mutual interests extending well beyond South Asia," the release states. "The secretary will also express U.S. appreciation for India's important contributions toward Afghanistan's democracy, stability, prosperity, and security."

Mattis' trip will mark the first cabinet-level visit to India under President Trump, the Pentagon added.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, want the Trump administration to identify ways to strengthen defense ties with India. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2018 defense policy bill that would require the defense secretary and secretary of state to "develop a strategy for advancing defense cooperation between the United States and India." The Senate adopted the amendment, and the bill was passed by the Senate Monday.

The new strategy should address common security challenges; the role of U.S. partners and allies in the U.S.-India defense relationship; the role of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI); how to advance the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Cooperation; and the role of joint exercises, operations, patrols and mutual defense planning, according to the legislation.

The Pentagon is already considering the best way to manage its relationship with India as part of the restructure of the acquisition, technology and logistics office within DOD, Inside Defense reported in July. The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which mandated the restructure, also requires the Pentagon to put an individual in charge of the DTTI.

The DTTI, signed in 2012, aims to strengthen industrial cooperation between India and the United States and move away from the "traditional 'buyer-seller' dynamic and toward a more collaborative relationship," according to a joint report by the State Department and DOD released in July. Since then, the United States and India have established several working groups under the DTTI with focuses on aircraft carriers; jet engines; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; chemical and biological protection; naval systems; and air systems.