By N. C. Bipindra
New Delhi: A week before US President Donald Trump‘s state visit, India today approved the purchase of a $2.6-billion deal to buy Lockheed Martin-made helicopters to shore up its capabilities to counter an increased Chinese warship and submarine presence in the Indian Ocean Region, two people familiar with the development said.
The Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gave the nod to the proposal to buy 24 MH-60R multirole helicopters, the people said, asking not to be named as the information is not yet public.
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 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.