Partner in Arms

Indo-US strategic ties can grow on the back of increased defence cooperation between the two nations

Smruti D

Promising to take the India-US defence partnership to another level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump signed two agreements worth USD 3 billion on February 25, for the purchase of additional Apache helicopters (these are for the Indian Army) and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy. Both the procurements will take place under Foreign Military Sale (FMS) between the governments of India and the US.

US-India signed two defence contracts during the visit

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is already operating 17 of the 22 AH-64 E Apaches contracted for earlier. Boeing is expected to deliver the remaining five of these to India by the end of March 2020. The additional six Apache helicopters for the Indian Army will be worth USD 980 million.

Earlier, addressing the audience of nearly one lakh at Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad Trump had said, “As we continue to build our defence cooperation, the United States 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: airplanes, missiles, rockets, ships. We make the best. And we’re dealing now with India. But this includes advanced air defence systems and armed and unarmed aerial vehicles. And I am pleased to announce that, tomorrow, our representatives will sign deals to sell over USD3 billion in the absolute finest, state-of-the-art military helicopters and other equipment to the Indian armed forces. I believe that the United States should be India’s premier defence partner, and that’s the way it’s working out. Together, we will defend our sovereignty, security, and protect a free and open Indo-Pacific region for our children and for many, many generations to come.”

Responding to the deal, President, Boeing India, Salil Gupte said, “We welcome India’s decision to acquire six AH-64 Apache helicopters and lifecycle services support for the Indian Army. The AH-64E Apache will be a force multiplier for the Indian Army, just as it is today for the IAF. We congratulate the US and Indian governments on this key milestone and welcome the positive momentum in the bilateral defence trade and industrial partnership.”

He also added that the new contract was a testimony to the trust and long-standing partnership Boeing had nurtured over the years with their Indian customers and that they were committed to delivering on their commitments in the future as well. Deliveries for the Indian Army Apaches are planned to begin in 2023.

The FMS contract for the Apache includes munitions, training, aircraft certification and components including engines, EO sensors and the radar. The direct commercial sale portion of the contract primarily consists of the aircraft (less engines/sensors), logistic support, spares and services.

The second deal of buying MH-60 Romeo Seahawk helicopters for USD2.6 billion will boost India’s naval capabilities and in turn its maritime security over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had approved buying of 24 MH-60 Romeo multi-role naval helicopters, built by Lockheed Martin-owned Sikorsky on February 19, five days prior to Trump’s visit.

The MH-60 Romeo helicopters would replace the British-made Sea King 42Bs. The delivery for these helicopters will commence in early 2021 and are likely to be completed in two years. MH-60 Romeo is likely to be a strong contender for Indian Navy’s Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH) programme to be executed under ‘Make in India’. The navy needs 123 of these helicopters.

Talking about the agreement, vice president, Sikorsky Maritime and Mission Systems, Dan Spoor said, “We are very pleased to learn that India is moving forward with the purchase of 24 MH-60R multi-mission helicopters. We stand behind the US Navy and look forward to having the Indian Navy become the fourth international country, joining Australia, Denmark and Saudi Arabia, to operate the MH-60R Romeo, the most advanced maritime helicopter in the world. This platform will provide the Indian Navy with the capability to identify, engage, and defeat maritime security threats along with the ability to perform secondary missions including vertical replenishment and search and rescue.”


The Future is Bright

In addition to these two helicopters, several other US platforms and equipment are on India’s wish-list. If all of these reach fruition, then the US will become the biggest supplier of defence equipment to India, in terms of cost. The wish-list includes:


Unmanned Platforms

India intends to procure 22 Sea Guardian (HALE) drones from the US for the Indian Navy in a deal said to cost over USD2.5-4.5 billion. It was in 2016 that India had sent a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US to purchase 22 MQ-9 Sea Guardian, built by General Atomics. The Trump-administration approved the sale of armed drones to India in June 2019 with an offer to equip it with the required missiles and systems. A direct sale, this deal will not involve any technology transfer to India.

While Indian Navy is using P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft in anti-submarine warfare role as well, the role of the Sea Guardian would also include maritime reconnaissance. They will come armed with missiles and radars. If the two countries seal the deal, India will only be the third country after the UK and Italy, and the first non-NATO member to be offered the Sea Guardians by the US government.

Fighter Platforms

Super Hornet: The IAF in April 2018 issued a Request for Information (RFI) to procure 114 fighters. After which Boeing, one of the contenders, announced its intention to manufacture the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet in India under the ‘Make in India’ model along with a partnership with the Indian Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and private company Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS). The Indian Navy, too, has a requirement for 57 carrier-borne fighters.

Boeing asserts that the Super Hornets that will be delivered to the IAF and Indian Navy will be tailor-made as per each of their needs. The equipment will give both the services capabilities to tackle similar situations.


F-21: At Aero India 2019 in Bengaluru, the US-based global aerospace giant Lockheed Martin affirmed that it would not sell F-21 fighter jets to any country other than India, if it bags the order for 114 planes for the IAF. It is one of the contenders in the programme.

The deal, as mentioned earlier, would cost the Indian exchequer USD18 billion, which would be one of the biggest military procurement in recent times, globally.

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