India quietly inks defence deal with US
The UPA government has quietly gone ahead and signed the biggestever defence deal with US: a $2.1 billion contract for eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft for Navy.The actual signing took place on January 1, with defence ministry’s joint secretary and acquisitions manager (maritime systems) Preeti Sudan and Boeing integrated defence systems vice-president and country head Vivek Lall signing the contract. Incidentally, the previous NDA regime had also signed a flurry of mega defence deals — like the $1.5 billion one for Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and $1.1 billion one for three Israeli ‘Phalcon’ AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) — in the run-up to the April-May 2004 general elections. Sources said the P-8I contract was “a direct commercial agreement with Boeing”, with “some issues of end-use verification yet to be fully sorted out” with the US government. India and US are negotiating the End-Use Verification Agreement (EUVA) and the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), which are required under American laws to ensure compliance with sensitive technology control requirements. The two pacts are required since India is now increasingly turning to US to buy military hardware and software. Though India does not have problems with safeguards, it does not want them to be “intrusive”. In terms of the contract size, the P-8I deal supplants the $962 million deal signed with US in 2007 for six C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft for Indian special forces. India will get the first P-8I towards end-2012 or early-2013, with the other seven following in a phased manner by 2015-2016. The contract also provides an option for India to order four to eight more such planes. Armed with torpedoes, depth bombs and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, the P-8I will also be capable of anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare. They will replace the eight ageing and fuel-guzzling Russian Tupolev-142M turboprops currently being operated by Navy. The P-8I planes will help in plugging the existing voids in Navy’s maritime snooping capabilities, having as they will an operating range of over 600 nautical miles, with ‘5.5 hours on station’. Customised for India and based on the Boeing 737 commercial airliner, the P-8I will actually be a variant of the P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft currently being developed for US Navy, which has ordered 108 of them to replace its P-3C Orion fleet. India, of course, remains unhappy over the US decision to sell more P-3C Orions, armed with Harpoon missiles, to Pakistan. At present, the Navy uses the TU-142Ms, IL-38SDs and Dorniers for surveillance operations in the Indian Ocean region. It is also now in the hunt for six advanced mediumrange maritime reconnaissance planes, for around Rs 1,600 crore, to further boost its snooping capabilities. For innermost layer surveillance, up to 200 nautical miles, Navy is going in for two more Israeli Heron UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), with three ground control stations and two ship control stations, for Rs 386 crore after successfully deploying eight Searcher-II and four Heron UAVs. There is also the Rs 1,163 crore joint Indo-Israeli project for developing rotary-wing UAVs for use from warships.