Indian, US air forces to expand cooperation to combat challenges in Indo-Pacific: Goldfein
New Delhi: The Indian and the US air forces will significantly step up operational cooperation to complement the strategic interests of the two countries in the Indo-Pacific region, Chief of US Air Force General David L Goldfein has said, while expressing concern over China's rising military influence over the area.
Calling India a "central strategic partner" of the US in pursuing common interests in the region, he said two of the world's largest air forces were going to jointly shift the focus on the Indo-Pacific region while asserting that the rules-based order must be preserved in the critical sea lanes.
Goldfein, who held extensive talks with Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa and the top brass of the defence set-up during his three-day India visit that ended yesterday, said the "Quadrilateral" coalition among the US, India, Japan and Australia would provide for deeper cooperation between the Indian and American air forces.
Asked if cooperation between the two forces would deepen in the wake of the four countries joining hands with an aim at containing China's influence in the Indo-Pacific region, he replied, "I do (think so) and that is a big part of my visit and in my discussions here".
In June Last year, two Lancer heavy strategic bombers of the US Air Force had conducted flights over the South China Sea, sending a clear message to China against its military build-up in the disputed area. Three US aircraft carriers the USS Nimitz, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt - have also been operating in the Indo-Pacific region.
"We have common interests in preserving the rules-based order. So while we look for opportunities for partnerships, it is actually appropriate also for us to be critical for those who are trying to change that in ways that may not benefit the region," he told PTI in an interview here.
In November, India, the US, Australia and Japan gave shape to the long-pending "Quad" to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of Chinese influence. Referring to the "Quad" or "quadrilateral coalition", the US Air Force Chief said there was a natural convergence among the four countries to work towards preserving the rules-based order, adding cooperation between Indian and US air forces would increase at several levels.
"India is absolutely a central strategic partner in moving forward in our common interests, and where we take this in the future is the purpose of my visit," he said.
Goldfein, who has 4,200 flying hours under his belt and flew in the Gulf war and in Afghanistan, also talked about India's place as mentioned in the recently unveiled national defence strategy of the US.
"It will be at a number of levels. It is on interoperability, how do we look beyond new platforms and sensors and look more broadly in the longer term," he said about cooperation between the US and the Indian air forces.
The visit assumes significance as he was accompanied by Terrence O'Shaughnessy, Commander of the US Pacific Air Force.
Goldfein did not give a direct reply when asked if the US would increase its military presence in South China Sea.
"We want to be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable. I am not going to share with our adversaries what our intentions are. If in fact we are to increase our presence or decrease our presence, that is something we will do at our time and place of our choosing," he said.
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