India is now close to inking major deals worth over $2.5 billion for two iconic American helicopters, the Apache attack and Chinook heavy-lift choppers, which thrashed their Russian rivals both technically and commercially earlier.
Defence ministry sources on Monday said the around $1.4 billion deal for 22 AH-64D Apache Longbow gunships, armed with deadly Hellfire and Stinger missiles, and the $1.1 billion one for 15 CH-47F Chinooks, equipped with powerful contra-rotating tandem rotors, are "almost ready" now.
"These two deals for IAF will be placed for approval before the first defence acquisitions council (DAC) meeting to be chaired by Arun Jaitley on July 19. Thereafter, the cases will be moved for the cabinet committee on security's final nod," said a source.
The deals for the two Boeing-manufactured helicopters, both of which have seen action in Iraq and Afghanistan, will further bolster the expanding US presence in the lucrative Indian arms market. It has already bagged defence contracts worth around $10 billion, including for aircraft like P-8I, C-130J `Super Hercules' and C-17 Globemaster-III, over the last decade.
The Apache project, in fact, is likely to get even bigger. After a long, bitter turf war with IAF, the Army earlier this year got "in principle" approval for getting the "ownership" for 39 Apache gunships for its own "strike" formations.
"After the contract for 22 Apaches for IAF, the Army will pursue a follow-on order for three attack helicopter squadrons. The Army hopes to get its Apaches, armed with guided missiles, cannons and rockets to target enemy tanks and infantry on the ground, by 2018," said another source.
The first Apache deal is going to be "a hybrid one", with one contract to be signed with Boeing for the helicopter and the other with the US government for its weapons, radars and electronic warfare suites. "While the CNC (contract negotiation committee) for Chinooks was completed some time ago, Boeing had been asked to re-submit their offsets package for the Apaches," he said.
Apart from the 22 Apaches, the project involves the acquisition of 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire-II missiles, 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles and 12 AN/APG-78 fire-control radars, among other things.
"Attack helicopters are as deadly as fighter jets, capable of detecting, containing and destroying enemy forces. They are also expensive," said an officer. IAF currently has just two squadrons of ageing Russian Mi-25/35 attack helicopters, with Army being dependent on the force for its own requirements.
The Chinooks, in turn, are capable of "internal transport" of 55 armed troops or two combat-equipped jeeps. They are also capable of "external transport" of 11,100-kg of equipment like 155mm howitzers.
But, as first reported by TOI earlier, the long-pending $885 million deal with the US government for 145 ultra-light M-777 howitzers is headed for a dead-end due to high costs. The air-mobile howitzers were meant to equip the new XVII Mountain Strike Corps (90,000 troops) being raised by the Army to gain "quick reaction force capabilities" against China. - Times of india