Stating his visit had been “very productive” for both countries, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said during the joint statement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India will buy military helicopters worth more than $3 billion from the US.
“Earlier today, we expanded our defence cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than $3 billion of advanced American military equipment, including Apache and MH-60 Romeo helicopters,” Trump said. He called these helicopters the “finest in the world”.
These deals, Trump said, will “enhance our joint defence capabilities, as our militaries continue to train and operate side by side”.
In the absence of a major trade deal, the deal to buy these helicopters for the Army and the Navy have been one of the biggest outcomes of Trump’s visit. India’s Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the purchase of 24 multi-role MH-60 Romeo helicopters, through the Foreign Military Sale government-to-government route, and six Apache AH 64E Apache helicopters for the Army.
While the 24 Romeo helicopters will cost close to $2.2 billion, the six Apache helicopters will cost approximately $800 million. The six choppers for the Army will be in addition to the 22 Apache helicopters that have already been ordered for the Air Force.
The MH-60 Romeo Seahawk, made by defence giant Lockheed Martin, is one of the most advanced naval helicopters in the world, used by the US Navy, among others. It can not only track and hunt ships, but is also used by the US Navy as anti-submarine weapon.
Sources in Indian Navy said that the deal comes more than a decade after the idea was first approved but had been stuck for various reasons.
The 24 Romeo helicopters will come equipped with anti-submarine Mark 54 torpedoes and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, along with precision-kill rockets, increasing the Navy’s capabilities to not only attack enemy boats, but can even tackle surface threats.
As China’s presence in the Indian Ocean Region is on the rise, these 24 helicopters will help strengthen the Navy, which lacks a helicopter of similar capabilities.
The Defence Acquisition Council had approved the procurement of these helicopters in August 2018, and a request was sent to the US in November 2018. The US had approved the potential sale last year. The helicopters are likely to be delivered within five years, with the first batch expected by 2022.
The Navy is also pursuing an independent deal of procuring 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters, for which it had issued a global request for information in August 2017, but that is yet to move forward. The 24 Romeos, sources said, “will just solve the immediate problem” of a depleting fleet of helicopters available with the Navy.
The six Apache helicopters that will be bought as a direct commercial sale for the Army. The Indian Air Force had bought 22 of these helicopters, made by Boeing, and the deal for the additional six of them for the Army will be a follow-on order.
The Army is likely to get the helicopters armed with Stinger air-to-air missiles and Hellfire Longbow air-to-ground missiles. The Army will deploy them at the Pakistan border.