India ready to approve $2.6-billion deal for US-made naval choppers

Photo: Lockheed Martin’s MH-60R helicopter

By N. C. Bipindra

New Delhi: India is all set to sign a $2.6-billion deal to buy 24 helicopters from the US in a bid to shore up its capabilities to counter an increased Chinese warship and submarine presence in the Indian ocean region, people familiar with the development said today.

The proposal for the purchase of the 24 MH-60R SeaHawk multirole helicopters from Lockheed Martin Corp. has been put up before India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for approval, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not yet public.

The US government had approved the sale of the 24 helicopters in April 2019 in a notification to the Congress. The Indian government’s approval could come in the next meeting of the CCS in the next couple of weeks, they said, as India is heading towards the signature military event, DefExpo 2020, in Lucknow from Feb. 5 to 8.

India is also pursuing two key purchase proposals for 123 multirole helicopters and 111 utility helicopters for its navy, and has in August 2017 floated requests for information from global chopper manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin Corp and Airbus Helicopters.

The tender for the 111 utility helicopters is expected to be approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) in its next meeting in February, as the documents are being readied by the Indian Navy.

The purchase of the American helicopter for the Indian Navy has been pending for the last 10 years and has gained urgency in view of the the presently aging Indian fleet of naval anti-submarine helicopters.

The acquisition gains traction against the backdrop of the Chinese submarines frequently venturing into the Indian Ocean region, lurking too close to the Indian waters and docking at ports in neighboring Pakistan, much to New Delhi’s annoyance.

This would also add to the growing defence business for American arms companies, who had already notched up around $18-billion worth of contracts in India in the last 12 years. Lockheed Martin has previously sold its C-130J Super Hercules special operations aircraft to India.

The world’s top arms company is also vying against compatriot Boeing Co., French Dassault Aviation, and Swedish SAAB AB in what’s being touted as the largest single deal for 114 combat jets estimated to be over $15 billion for the Indian Air Force, which is likely to be tendered later this year.

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