India to pledge more defense procurement from the U.S.

President Trump is expected to swoop into India for a full-fledged state visit in late February, according to Indian officials. Mr. Trump, apparently eager to get out of the Washington and plans to spend about two days in India, a country where the United States is eager for more business and looking to find a counterweight to the rise of China.

The Royal Australian Navy’s MH-60R Romeo helicopter conducts functional testing of the newly fitted Airborne Low Frequency Sonar System (ALFS) off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

India is set to give final approval to a $2.6 billion deal for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters from U.S. defence firm Lockheed Martin ahead of a proposed visit by U.S. President Donald Trump this month, learned GDC citing the India Times.

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Many of India’s warships are without any helicopters because of years of underfunding, and the navy had sought their acquisition as a top priority.

The MH-60R is equipped with a highly sophisticated combat systems designed to employ Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and the Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedo. The primary missions of the ‘Romeo’ helicopter is anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. Secondary missions include search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport and medical evacuation.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is trying to pull out all the stops for Trump’s trip in a bid to reaffirm strategic ties between the two countries, which have been buffeted by sharp differences over trade, to counter China.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the President Donald Trump at Whitehouse

Behind the pageantry, Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi will have to navigate some tricky geopolitics and strategic issues including India’s procurement of Russian-made S-400 air defense system. Prime Minister Modi may have to impress President Trump with assurances of procurement of more defense equipment from the US and a partial trade deal with the US. For years, American officials have been trying to woo India into a closer strategic partnership to contain China, though India has remained lukewarm. American and Indian officials are also eager to ink a trade deal.

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India’s defence purchases from the United States have reached $17 billion since 2007 as it has pivoted away from traditional supplier Russia, looking to modernise its military and narrow the gap with China.

To cut short lengthy negotiations between Lockheed and the Indian government, the helicopters that will be deployed on India’s warships will be bought through the U.S. foreign military sales route, under which the two governments will agree details of the deal.

Both countries are separately working on a limited trade agreement ahead of the trip, after earlier imposing tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s imports.

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Trump has called India the “tariff king of the world” but the Modi government has been trying to address some of his concerns.

Trade officials have pointed to large-scale U.S. arms purchases, from surveillance planes to Apache and Chinook helicopters, as proof of India’s willingness to tighten strategic ties.

The government outlined only a modest rise in its 2020/21 defence spending to $73.65 billion in the budget on Feb. 1, of which a part will go towards making a down payment on the helicopter purchase, a defence official said.

The U.S. State Department approved the sale of the choppers to India last year along with radars, torpedoes and 10 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles.

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The clearance came after the Trump administration rolled out a new “Buy American” plan in 2018 that had relaxed restrictions on sales, saying it would bolster the American defence industry and create jobs at home.

The United States has also offered India the armed version of Guardian drones that were originally authorized for sale as unarmed for surveillance purposes, the first such approval for a country outside the NATO alliance.

India plans to buy 30 of these unmanned aircraft for surveillance of the Indian Ocean, at a cost estimated to be about $2.5 billion, from General Atomics.

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