NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday inked the $1.1 billion deal for four more Poseidon-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft, which takes the total value of arms contracts signed with the US to over $15 billion in the last 10 years, even as the two countries also discussed several new projects to jointly produce weapon systems and platforms.
Visiting US undersecretary of defence Frank Kendall, heading a top Pentagon delegation, held extensive talks with defence secretary G Mohan Kumar and defence production secretary A K Gupta about the different co-production projects under the bilateral Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI).
The US is very keen on India picking one of its fighter jets, either the twin-engine F/A-18 “Super Hornet” (Boeing) or the single-engine F-16 “Fighting Falcon” (Lockheed Martin), for a “Make in India” programme in the defence production sector.
As was first reported by TOI on July 1, PM Narendra Modi-led Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the acquisition of the four P-8I aircraft, with potent anti-submarine warfare capabilities, at a time when Chinese nuclear and conventional submarines are making frequent forays in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The four new P-8I aircraft, with the first to be delivered in 50 months, will join the first eight such aircraft inducted by the Navy from May 2013 to October 2015 under a $2.1 billion deal inked in 2009.
The Navy is using the eight P-8Is, armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges, to keep an “intelligent hawk-eye” over the entire IOR.
With a maximum speed of 907 kmph and an operating range of 1,200 nautical miles, “with four hours on station”, the P-8Is provide the reach and flexibility to undertake extensive maritime surveillance and intelligence-gathering missions.
Based at the naval airbase INS Rajali at Arakkonam (Tamil Nadu), the P-8Is are also been extensively used in the ongoing search operation for the missing AN-32 aircraft, which went down in the Bay of Bengal with 29 people on board on July 22.
Apart from the 12 P-8Is, the major deals inked with the US include ones for 13 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft ($2.1 billion), 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft ($4.1 billion) as well as 22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters ($3.1 billion).
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Another deal in the final stages is the $737 million one for 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers under the Pentagon’s foreign military sales programme. The Army wants these 155mm/39-calibre howitzers because they can be swiftly air-lifted to “threatened high-altitude areas” along the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control with China.