US Defence Secretary Lloyd J Austin arrived in India on Friday on a three-day visit, aimed at further boosting bilateral defence and security ties in the wake of China's growing military assertiveness in the region including the Indo-Pacific.
India is the third stop of Austin's three-nation first overseas tour, and the visit is seen as a strong commitment of the Joe Biden administration to its close allies and partners in the region.
Ways to further accelerate India-US strategic ties, boosting cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, China's aggressive behaviour in eastern Ladakh, challenges posed by terrorism and the Afghan peace process are expected to be focus of the talks between the two sides, people familiar with the visit preparation and agenda said.
They said India's plan to procure around 30 multi-mission armed Predator drones from the US for the three services at an estimated cost of over USD 3 billion is also expected to figure in the talks.
The medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Predator-B drones, manufactured by US defence major General Atomics, are capable of remaining airborne for around 35 hours and can hunt down targets at land and sea, they said.
Secretary Austin is expected to meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Friday evening while he will hold extensive talks with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday.
He is also likely to meet External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
His visit to India came days after the top leadership of the four-member Quad --India, the US, Japan and Australia-- vowed to expand their cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
The US defence secretary visited Japan and South Korea before arriving in India.