US President Donald Trump landed in Ahmedabad on his maiden visit to India on Monday. Though the official talks between Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will happen in New Delhi on Tuesday, officials based in South Block are working overtime to finalise the fine print of defence agreements expected to be discussed in the talks.
"As we continue to build our defence cooperation, the US looks forward to providing India with some of the best and most feared military equipment on the planet. We make the greatest weapons ever made. We make the best and we are dealing now with India," Trump said during the Namaste India event in Ahmedabad. Trump added "I'm pleased to announce that tomorrow our representatives will sign deals to sell over $3 billion in the absolute finest state-of-the-art military helicopters and other equipment to the Indian armed forces."
The sale of 24 MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters for $2.6 billion is expected to be announced in the joint statement between Trump and Modi after the delegation-level talks in Hyderabad House in Delhi.
Last week, the Union cabinet had given its go-ahead to the naval helicopter purchase, so that the deal could be mentioned during the Trump-Modi talks. Besides 24 MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters, the sale of six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for the Indian Army is also set to be announced in the talks.
"Though many other key issues of defence cooperation will be discussed in the talks, announcement on naval and attack helicopters is expected to find a place in the joint statement after the talks,"said a senior official.
The 24 MH-60 helicopters, built by Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky Aircraft, will be procured under the 'government-to-government' route. The MH-60 is the US Navy's primary anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare helicopter and is also capable of search and rescue and supply missions. These helicopters will replace 15 Sea King anti-submarine warfare helicopters de-inducted from service in 1991 and one Sea King 42B MRH, lost in an accident. The current MRHs in service—Sea King 42Bs—were inducted in the 1980s when the Indian Navy got its now decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat.
The deal for six Apache attack helicopters worth $1 billion has also been finalised by the government. Called 'flying tanks', the Apache attack helicopters will be a major component in tank battles. Apache helicopters are capable of detecting 256 moving targets and engaging them. The Apache, a twin-engined helicopter, is operated by two pilots.
With its array of modern electronics, the Apache is considered to be one of the most advanced combat helicopters in the world. The Apache helicopter was involved in missions during the 1991 Gulf War between the US and Iraq and then in US operations in Afghanistan. India is the 14th country to operate the Apache; the aircraft is in service with the Indian Air Force.
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Besides helicopters, crucial progress has also been made in the key foundation agreement Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which will enable India to obtain cutting-edge weapons and communications systems from the US. It will allow the Indian military to use US expertise on geospatial intelligence for enhanced military accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons including ballistic missiles and drones.
India has already signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). However, it is yet to sign the third, BECA.
More recently, the Industrial Security Agreement (ISA) was signed during the 2+2 Dialogue, which facilitates close technology transfer with Indian private industry.