India seeks to buy US helicopters worth Rs 13,500 crore
NEW DELHI: With the US waiver for India’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 Triumf missile systems hanging in the balance, New Delhi has kicked off the formal process for yet another mega defence deal with Washington as a sweetener for the Trump administration.
The NDA government on Thursday issued the “letter of request” to the US government for the Rs 13,500 crore acquisition of 24 naval multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ helicopters, armed with torpedoes and missiles for potent anti-submarine warfare capabilities, said top sources.
The induction of these heavy-duty choppers in the 2020-2024 timeframe will come as a shot in the arm for the Indian Navy, whose warships are virtually bereft of such helicopters at a time when Chinese nuclear and diesel-electric submarines are making regular forays into the Indian Ocean Region.
The government-to-government deal for the MH-60 choppers, manufactured by Sikorsky-Lockheed Martin, under the US foreign military sales programme is likely to be inked within a year. The US has already notched military sales worth $17 billion to India since 2007, even overtaking Russia for three to four years during the last decade.
The FMS route is considered much swifter and cleaner than the cumbersome global tender process, which takes several years and is often derailed by allegations of corruption in India. India has brought most of its weapon systems from the US, like the C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlifters, C-130J “Super Hercules” planes and M-777 ultralight howitzers, through FMS programme.
Acquisition of new multi-role helicopters has been pending for well over a decade, with the Navy identifying them along with submarines and minesweepers as the top three “critical operational necessities” for it. The 140-warship force has just about a dozen old Sea King and 10 Kamov-28 anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
The preliminary “acceptance of necessity” for the MH-60 choppers and the $1 billion acquisition of the American National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System-II (NASAMS-II), slated for deployment as a missile shield for New Delhi, was accorded by the Nirmala Sitharaman-led Defence Acquisitions Council just before the inaugural “two-plus-two” dialogue between India and the US here on September 6.
Both US defence secretary Jim Mattis and secretary of state Mike Pompeo have strongly argued India’s case for a “national security waiver” under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), which seeks to prevent countries from buying Russian weapons or Iranian oil, for its $5.43 billion S-400 missile deal.
But the final call still has to be taken by President Donald Trump, who will need a transactional quid pro quo in terms of a major Indian defence deal as well as India’s strategic commitment to progressively reduce its dependence on Russian weapon systems.
The US, of course, is in contention for more Indian defence deals. Washington, for instance, is aggressively hawking its F/A-18 or F-16 fighter production line for the IAF’s over $20 billion “Make in India” competition for 114 jets as well as the Navy’s quest for 57 carrier-capable fighters.
India and the US are also in advanced talks for 22 armed Predator-B or weaponised Sea Guardian drones. Then, after the first 24 multi-role helicopters, the Navy also has long-term “Make in India” projects for another 123 such choppers as well as 111 armed light utility choppers.