The defence ministry has cleared two crucial deals worth more than $3.1 billion to equip the Indian Air Force with US-built attack and heavy-lift helicopters.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has sent the proposals to buy 22 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift copters — both platforms manufactured by US defence giant Boeing — to the finance ministry for clearance, a government official said on Monday.
The Apache proposal went to the finance ministry on April 23, while the one to buy Chinooks was sent last week. The proposals will later go to the cabinet committee on security, headed by PM Narendra Modi, for final clearance. The latest price extension granted by Boeing for the choppers is valid till June 30.
The deals are, however, not linked to US defence secretary Ashton Carter’s upcoming visit to India, beginning June 2.
The proposals have clauses to place follow-on orders for 11 more Apaches and four extra Chinooks. Both platforms have seen combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. Boeing had beaten off competition from Russia, which had offered its Mi-28N Night Hunter and Mi-26 heavy-lift copters to the IAF.
Armed with fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles, the Apache attack choppers can track up to 128 targets in a minute and prioritise threats.
These missiles equip the helicopter gunships with heavy anti-armour capabilities. The army is moving a case to buy 39 Apache helicopters. The Chinook’s main roles include transporting troops, artillery and battlefield resupply.
Carter will be arriving in India four months after New Delhi and Washington renewed the 2005 India-US Defence Framework Agreement to deepen cooperation in several security-related areas. The agreement led to some major weapon sales to India, deepened military-to-military engagements, bolstered technical cooperation and strengthened the overall strategic partnership. India and the US will also be working on projects relating to co-development and co-production of military hardware and systems under the defence trade and technology initiative (DTTI).
India and US have identified four key “pathfinder projects” for joint development and production under the DTTI. These include next generation Raven mini-UAVs, roll-on and roll-off kits for C-130J Super Hercules planes and mobile electric hybrid power sources.
The US is currently the biggest supplier of weapons to the Indian military, having won deals worth over $10 billion during the last six years.