US President Donald Trump recently announced his visit to India later this month and the expectations on the meet between Trump and Modi are high from both the countries. Under the Trump-Modi era, both the countries have seen a deepening of the bilateral ties especially when it comes to defence. In a bid to reaffirm the Indo-US strategic ties, India is readying $2.6 billion US Naval helicopter deal ahead of Trump’s visit.
While India and the US continue to have differences over trade with Trump even calling India as “tariff king of the world”, India’s defence purchases from the United States have reached $17 billion since 2007. India has looked to shift from its traditional supplier Russia, as it increasingly looks to modernise its military arsenal to counter the threat posed by China.
PM Modi’s cabinet committee on security is expected to clear the purchase of 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy before the end of February, a defence official and an industry source briefed on the matter separately told Reuters. “It’s a government-to-government deal, it is close,” said the industry source. 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 US foreign military sales route, under which the two governments will agree to the details of the deal.
This move comes on the back of the US State Department’s decision to approve India’s request for an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System for an estimated cost of $1.87 billion. The Indian Navy were perennially starved of helicopters due to years of negligence and underfunding despite the fact that the Indian Navy had sought their acquisition as the top priority. The multirole helicopters from Lockheed will be equipped with Hellfire missiles and torpedoes, and are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is expanding its presence.
In a testament to the deepening defence ties between the two countries, the United States has also offered India the armed version of Guardian drones which 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 but a deal is unlikely to be imminent due to the paucity of funds.
The deal with the US for Apache helicopters resulted in a historic boost to the firepower of the Indian Air Force, the first four AH-64E Apache attack helicopters had been delivered to India in July 2019 and inducted in September. The induction of Apache helicopters will come as a matter of huge relief for the Indian Air Force, which currently uses decades-old, Russian made Mi-35 and Mi-25 attack helicopters. Apache helicopters are undoubtedly the leading helicopters as far as attack helicopters around the world are concerned. These helicopters not only have impressive capabilities but have also seen action proving its worth.
Apache helicopters are the primary attack helicopters of multiple nations like Israel, United Arab Emirates and others along with the United States. Apache helicopters are known for their trustworthiness and have proved very helpful in many operations conducted by the US Army around the globe. The primary attack helicopters have great power and can be used both day and night. They will increase the capacity of the Indian Defence Forces to attack and conduct operations in a given area. Along with the Apache helicopters, the US State Department had also agreed last year to the sale of four AN/APG-78 Fire Control Radars, 180 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 90 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 200 Stinger Block I-92H missiles, Embedded GPS Inertial Navigation Systems, 30mm cannons, transponders, simulators, training equipment to India.
In February last year, India’s defence capabilities were further boosted as the first four of the fifteen Chinook CH-47F (I) heavy-lift helicopters that were ordered by the Indian Air Force from the United States, in 2015 arrived in India. The American company Boeing in a statement said, “the ahead-of-schedule arrival of the Chinooks validates Boeing’s commitment to delivering on its promise of modernising India’s defence forces.” The company added, “through its current partnerships with Indian Air Force and Indian Navy, Boeing has ensured a high rate of mission readiness and increased operational capabilities.”
The US-India defence relations have skyrocketed in the past few years and if the two countries can get over their trade differences, both the countries will stand to gain with a strategically important bilateral relationship.