NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and the United States are making progress in talks on the joint development of an aircraft carrier for India, the top U.S. navy admiral said on Wednesday, potentially the biggest military collaboration between them.
The two countries agreed to work together on aircraft carrier technology as well as jet engines during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to India last year in a strengthening of ties to balance China's expanding military power in the region.
The visiting chief of U.S. Naval Operations, John Richardson, said the two sides had held talks on a range of issues relating to the next generation Indian carrier from its design to construction.
A high-level U.S.-India joint working group is due to meet in New Delhi later this month, part of a series of meetings aimed at establishing broader cooperation on the design, development and production of the proposed Indian carrier.
"We are making very good progress, I am very pleased with the progress to date and optimistic we can do more in the future. That's on a very solid track," Richardson told reporters in New Delhi.
India inducted an old aircraft carrier from Russia in 2014 while an aging British vessel is set to retire this year. It is building an indigenous carrier that is expected to enter service in 2018-2019.
But the navy also plans a third, its biggest carrier yet, for which it has sought U.S. assistance, especially state-of-the-art technology to launch aircraft.
Richardson said the electromagnetic launch technology that enabled a navy to fly heavier planes from a carrier was part of the discussions with India.
"All of those things are on the table, there are possibilities, its a matter of pacing, it's very new technology for us," he said.
China has one aircraft carrier and announced last month it is building another. The Pentagon said in a report last year that China could build multiple aircraft carriers over the next 15 years.
India's navy, which has long considered the Indian Ocean its area of influence, has been unnerved by Chinese naval forays in the region and its efforts to build port infrastructure in countries stretching from Pakistan to Djibouti on the African coast.
After years of neglect, the Indian government has approved the navy's plans for a dozen new submarines, six of them nuclear-powered. More than 40 warships are under construction.
Editing by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones