- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

MORMUGAO PORT TRUST, India (AP) - Defense Secretary Ash Carter gave an optimistic assessment Monday that the U.S military will be able to move ahead with agreements to cooperate more with India on aircraft carrier and other technology.

Speaking aboard the USS Blue Ridge, the command ship for the Asia Pacific region, Carter said he will be talking with Indian officials Tuesday about the pacts.

“I expect progress tomorrow” in many areas, he told reporters.

Noting that India wants to move to a flat-deck design of its aircraft carriers, he said the U.S. is “more than willing” to share its catapult technology used to launch fighter jets off carriers.

Carter’s stop in the Indian state of Goa on the southwest coast, included a visit Monday to the Karwar Naval Base - the first senior U.S. official to go to that facility. He also toured the INS Vikramaditya, an Indian aircraft carrier, becoming the first defense secretary to see the ship.

This is Carter’s second trip to India as secretary, and both times involve a coastal stop and a visit to an Indian navy ship. The visit to the navy base underscores U.S. efforts to form a stronger, new military cooperation relationship with India and other nations in the Asia Pacific.

Shortly after his arrival Sunday, Carter and Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar toured several historic religious sites, including the expansive Manguesh Temple and the St. Francis Basilica. Goa is Parrikar’s home state and Carter stopped here at his invitation.

In brief remarks, Carter said it is critically important for the U.S. and India to expand their military relationship, including greater cooperation on high-tech projects and ship and fighter jet development. He has described the relationship as one “destined to be one of the most significant partnerships of the 21st century.”

The U.S. views India as a key ally in the Asia Pacific, in part as a countermeasure to China, which has escalated tensions in the region over its aggressive maritime claims in the South China Sea.

China’s has steadily increased it campaign to construct man-made islands, and in some cases build airstrips and station military or other equipment on them.

Twice since October U.S. warships have deliberately sailed near one of the islands China has been developing to exercise freedom of navigation and challenge the claims.

Last year, Carter and Parrikar signed a defense agreement, as part of a broader U.S. effort to improve what has been a rocky relationship between the two countries.

During the 2015 visit Carter announced two $1 million research ventures. While small, defense officials say the two-year projects will set the groundwork for future collaboration.

One involved the development of a small high-tech mobile power source for the Marine Corps that would work on solar energy and could be used in remote outposts. The other is a lightweight protective suit for the Army for chemical and biological hazard incidents.

The two countries are also working to collaborate on some aircraft carrier and jet engine technology.

During remarks last week, Carter noted that the negotiations represent great promise but they “can be difficult and global competition is high, I have no doubt that in the coming years, the United States and India will embark on a landmark co-production agreement that will bring our two countries closer together and make our militaries stronger.”

India is the first stop on a two-week trip Carter is making to Asia and the Middle East. He is also planning stops in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, where he will attend a meeting of Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministers ahead of President Barack Obama’s participation in the U.S.-GCC Leaders’ Summit.

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