US and Indian troops will this month stage their biggest joint manoeuvres, including live fire exercises, as the two nuclear powers build up military ties, a senior US officer said on Tuesday.
Lieutenant General Benjamin Mixon, commander of US Army forces in the Pacific, said 200 US soldiers and 17 Stryker infantry combat vehicles were taking part in the Yudh Abhyas exercises at Babina firing range from Oct. 12 to 29.
It is the largest contingent sent by the United States to the annual joint exercises since they began in 2004.
India had a close military relationship with Moscow until the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s but is now deepening ties with Washington, which is also trying to balance long-standing ties with neighboring Pakistan.
"As we look at the Pacific in this century, the important players that we are going to see ... are certainly India, Indonesia and China," Mixon said.
The exercise will integrate elements of the two armies for live fire tests involving the eight-wheel armored Strykers and an equivalent number of Indian vehicles. In past years the two armies engaged only in "table-top" exercises.
It will be the largest deployment of Strykers outside Iraq or Afghanistan. Indian military officials have expressed interest in the vehicle, which has machine guns, grenade launchers and cannons and can travel at over 60 mph (100 kph).
Mixon said it was not the intent of the exercise to promote Stryker sales to India, but added: "With the success that we have had with the Stryker, I wouldn't be surprised if the Indians are interested."
Indian officials have indicated preliminary interest in the vehicle, built by General Dynamics Corp (GD.N), a source familiar with the Stryker program said.
Mixon said the exercise was planned long before militant attacks in Mumbai last November, but the incident underscored the importance of US efforts to work with countries in the region on issues like counterinsurgency.