INDIA RUSHES TO CLEAR DEFENCE DEALS AHEAD OF PANETTA’S VISIT
By Bulbul Singh
24 May 12. India is preparing a wish list of weapons and equipment, ahead of the June visit of U.S. Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, which can be bought from the United States The Indian defence ministry last week, hurriedly cleared the purchase of 145 light Howitzer guns from the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems and is now closing the $1.4 billion deal for the purchase of 22 Apache Attack helicopters from United States.
Both the deals worth over $2 billion are expected to be inked during the presence of Panetta when he visits New Delhi in early June. In addition India will put its weapons wish list which includes purchase of air defence systems, and military vehicles. The Indian army proposes to purchase over 10,000 light strike military vehicles over the next five to seven years valued at over $2 billion, and majority of these will be produced in private defence companies in collaboration with overseas defence companies.
These vehicles will be purchased in phases. The requirements of the Indian Army include four wheel drive; high power to weight ratio vehicles and capable to travel at 80 kilometres per hour and carry rocket launchers and Global Positioning System navigation systems.
The United States had earlier offered its Patriot anti-missile system, network-centric early warning and battlefield control and command systems. The U.S. administration has also indicated on several occasions to sell the F-35 fighter aircraft to India despite India and Russia contracting to make a Fifth Generation Fighter aircraft.
India is also preparing to respond to the long standing demand of United States for signing of legal agreements relating to end user use of weapons and other logistics agreements which have dampened the Indo-U.S. defence ties for over three to four years. While the Indian Defence Minister, A K Antony had taken a hard position on signing some of these agreements, sources say, Antony has become more receptive now, but it is not clear whether the two countries will sign any of these agreements during Panetta’s visit.
The legislation which U.S. wants India to sign includes the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and an end-use monitoring agreement.
The 155mm/39 Howitzers to be acquired from the USA on government-to-government basis will be deployed in the higher reaches along the border with China. This would be the first purchase of Howitzer guns made by the Indian defence ministry from overseas after the first lot was purchased in the late 1980’s. Subsequent attempts to buy 155mm Howitzer guns could not yield any result as the purchase programme had to be abandoned mid-way to charges of alleged corruption involving some of the overseas competitors. First it was Denel of South Africa in 2005, and then it was Singapore Technologies in 2009.
Another deal which is likely to be closed for inking before Panetta’s arrival here is the purchase of 22 Attack helicopters from United States. The American companies, Boeing’s AH-64D Apache beat Russia’s MI-28 Night Hunter helicopters after the flight trials last year. Interestingly both these deals could have been signed much earlier, as the selections were done last year after trials.
The rush to ink the deals ahead of Panetta’s visit is because New Delhi wants to send a strong message that Indo-U.S. defence ties are on fast track despite the differences on the signing of some legislation including the end user agreement and the logistics agreement.
The defence ties between the two countries had also been hit after all the aircraft from United States including F-16 and F-18 were ejected from Indian Air Force’s $11 billion Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition last year.
New Delhi increasingly needs U.S. support in its proactive approach against Chinese threat, especially Indian Navy’s pr