Washington: The US is making a strong pitch to sell its fifth generation F-35 fighter jet aircraft to India saying the offer was an example of the high regard that the US holds for rising India`s military modernisation.
"What`s clear is that the F-35 is something that we would be more than willing to talk to the government of India about, should they express an interest," Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, told reporters Wednesday.
The US-India defence relationship has expanded rapidly over the past decade and the administration sees India as a natural partner and global player, Scher said at a Pentagon briefing on a US defence department report to the US Congress on US-India Security Cooperation.
India has made no request for more information on the F-35 but the US invitation was "an example of the high regard that we hold India`s military modernisation", Scher said.
While the Obama administration and Congress work to overhaul export restrictions that unnecessarily hamstring the sharing of military technology with allies, the US and India find ways to lower barriers within existing laws, he said.
"We are looking at what we can do within our systems to reflect the change in our approach, the change in our relationship with India," Scher said. While nothing is imminent, the goal is "to make sure that they can get access to some of our top technology and our best systems", he said.
Downplaying any suggestion that arms sales to India may not go well with ally Pakistan, he said: "It`s important that none of us think about relationships in this region as a zero-sum game."
"We have valuable relationships with Pakistan and valuable relationships with India and these things can co-exist."
Hoping the relationship with India and the arms sales would continue to grow, Scher said: "I think there is a great potential to do much more."
"India sees the US as a reliable defence supplier and we have been able to provide some top-of-the-line equipment. Is there some potential for more? Certainly there is. That is for the government of India to decide."
The pitch for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) comes after Boeing and Lockheed Martin lost out to European competitors in April bidding for an $11 billion deal to supply India with 126 multi-role combat jets.
The F-35 is a fifth generation all-stealth fighter being developed by US armament giant Lockheed Martin in a joint consortium with eight other countries - Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Australia.
Meanwhile, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator John Cornyn, who had sought the report, said the document was "an encouraging sign that the Obama administration is committed to strengthening our relationship with India".
"While the report shows that tremendous progress has been made in military-to-military relations over the past ten years, we believe that there is much more that can be done."