India wants to use state-of-the-art US technology to boost the range and potency of a planned aircraft carrier, defence sources said, in a move that would tie their arms programmes closer together and counter China's military influence in the region.
The proposal, referred to only obliquely in a joint statement at the end of President Barack Obama's recent visit to New Delhi, is the clearest signal yet that Washington is ready to help India strengthen its navy.
Although the aircraft carrier in question would not be ready for at least another decade, such cooperation could act as a balance against China's expanding presence in the Indian Ocean.
The Defence Ministry declined to comment.
After years of neglect, India's navy is in the midst of accelerated modernisation under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It inducted an old aircraft carrier from Russia in 2014 to add to an ageing British vessel likely to be decommissioned in 2018. Last year, soon after taking office, the PM cleared funds to ensure another carrier being built domestically was ready for service in 2018.
He also endorsed navy plans for a further carrier, which would be its biggest, and it is this one that may be built with US technology.
At the heart of the proposed collaboration is a US offer to share the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which means jets can launch off a flat deck at a faster rate and with less fatigue to aircraft.
Defence officials said this could lead to direct US participation in building the 65,000-tonne INS Vishal carrier.
Naval planners want a carrier that can launch heavier planes. India's existing carrier force uses ski-jump ramps to help planes take off and brings them in using wires to slow them down. For that reason, planes have to be lighter and are fewer in number.
India's navy planners hope to increase the number of aircraft on board the INS Vishal to 50 from 34, and field heavier fighter jets with longer reach.
Two sources familiar with the issue added that the US response to Indian overtures had been cool until very recently.
"EMALS is one of the most revolutionary things in carrier technology because it completely changes the way you fire a plane off the top of a ship," said James Hardy, Asia-Pacific Editor for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.