India and the United States have agreed in principle to share military logistics, the countries' defense ministers said on Tuesday, as both sides seek to counter the growing maritime assertiveness of China.
Washington has for years urged New Delhi to sign a Logistics Support Agreement that allows the two militaries to use each other's land, air and naval bases for resupplies, repair and rest.
India has had concerns that a logistics agreement would commit it to hosting U.S. troops at its bases, or draw it into a military alliance with the United States and undermine its traditional autonomy.
But after years of delays, the two sides said an agreement was in hand, although not yet ready for signing.
"We have agreed in principle that all the issues are resolved," U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters in New Delhi after talks with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar.
The two sides would finalize the text of an agreement in coming weeks, Carter said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, faced with an assertive China expanding its influence in the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, has signaled its desire to draw closer to the United States. China is also a close ally of India's arch rival, Pakistan.
Modi is also keen to access U.S. technology for his "Make in India" plans to build a domestic industrial base and cut expensive arms imports.
The U.S. military has made clear it wants to do more with India, especially in countering China. Carter is on his second visit to India in less than a year, aimed at cementing defense cooperation in the final months of Barack Obama's presidency.
Washington's desire for deeper security cooperation with India has been tricky without the signing of the logistics agreement, as well as two other pacts that would allow for secure communications and the exchange of nautical and other data. The agreements are considered routine between the United States and its other defense partners.
Reaching the logistics agreement would make it easier to conclude the other two pacts, a senior U.S. defense official said.
"There's increasing recognition on the Indian side that there's real mutual benefits to doing them, so I do think that the prospects are good," the official said, on condition of anonymity.
Carter said the two countries would also soon conclude an agreement on exchanging information on commercial shipping.
Collaboration on carrier
He said the two countries were also advancing collaboration in aircraft carrier design and technology, potentially the biggest joint project since they launched a Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) in 2012.
India, which operates a re-tooled Russian-built carrier, plans to build its biggest indigenous carrier, for which is it looking at U.S. technology to launch heavier aircraft.
"We have decided to take forward discussions under DTTI more aggressively on key areas such as jet engine technology. We will also continue our very useful and productive discussions on cooperation ... on aircraft carriers," Parrikar said.
India is concerned about China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean, traditionally New Delhi's backyard, and it said on Tuesday that it had agreed with the United States to launch discussions between the countries' two navies on anti-submarine warfare and submarine safety.