Panetta said India and the United States should conduct more regular and complex military exercises. His remarks in New Delhi came on the same day as Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will boost military exercises and cooperation with China.
Panetta is on week-long visit to Asia to spell out a new U.S. defence strategy to allies and partners in the region. The strategy, which was released in January, calls for a shift in U.S. strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific.
The Pentagon said in the security strategy that the United States was working to build on strategic ties with India, the only partner nation singled out by name in the document.
Panetta urged India’s leaders to build on engagement with rival Pakistan and to “continue with additional support to Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction, and help for Afghanistan’s security forces.”
But analysts note that New Delhi has a long history of non-alignment with the major powers and prefers to maintain its independence of action.
“I don’t think that India is going to stand up and be counted right, a) because India’s political time and attention is focused inwards, and b) because I don’t think there is any clarity on how we position ourselves a propos the U.S.-China relationship,” said Indian defense analyst Uday Bhaskar.
India last year agreed to buy a fleet of C-17 transport planes and P-81 maritime surveillance jets from U.S. company Boeing, as well as Lockheed Martin’s Super Hercules.
It is at a late stage of talks to buy more than a dozen Boeing Apache helicopters and last month cleared the purchase of 145 M777 Howitzer artillery guns. Panetta made no public mention of these deals while he was in India.
Last year India dropped Lockheed’s F-16 from the bidding for a $10 billion purchase of 126 fighter jets, partly because European companies were offering more modern aircraft. Some in Washington considered India’s decision to go with European planes a snub to U.S. offers of a close defense alliance.
The Pentagon subsequently offered to sell India the latest F-35 jets.