The US government has cleared yet another high technology system for India, the "futuristic" shipboard Hawkeye E-2D aircraft for Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and battle management.
The clearance has been described by diplomatic sources as a fallout of the "successful" visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the signing of the End User Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) of military equipment being supplied or sold by the US to India.
Like the Boeing P 8I Maritime Multi-mission Aircraft (MMA), of which the Indian Navy has already ordered eight aircraft, the Hawkeye E-2D is the very latest and is yet to be delivered to the US Navy.
India is the second country after the UAE to be cleared by the US State and Defense Departments for sale of this sophisticated system. The US Navy has sanctioned $432 million for trials of the aircraft, currently underway at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. The Naval Systems Command (NAVAIR) based there provides engineering and testing support for new naval systems and weapons.
The Hawkeye E-2D has been under the US government's consideration for India for some time. In fact, in 2007, Pentagon sources in Washington had told this writer that the aircraft was being cleared, but apparently the previous version, Hawkeve E-2C, was eventually offered to which the Indian Navy said "No" in informal discussions.
The aircraft is being manufactured by Northrop Grumman, a leading US player in Aerospace, Warships, Missiles, Combat Radars and Electronic Warfare systems.
Northrop Grumman's programme Manager for International Business Development Tom C. Trudell told India Strategic magazine that the aircraft has "just been cleared by the US government for India" and that a presentation was made to the Indian Navy in August in New Delhi.
Indian Navy officers had witnessed the capabilities of the Hawkeye E-2C but told the US officials that as the equipment it would buy would be used for years, it must be the best and the latest with future capability insertion potential.
India Strategic quotes unnamed Indian officials as saying that the technology onboard the Hawkeye E-2D is "very tempting" and that although neither the Gorshkov aircraft carrier which India is buying from Russia nor India's first aircraft carrier indigenously being built would be able to accommodate this aircraft, India's future aircraft carriers could be a little bigger.
"By the time this aircraft comes, and by the time the Indian Navy gets used to it from initial shore-based operations, plans for two more aircraft carriers could be amended to house this system."
There have been no tenders of RfPs yet for the Hawkeye E-2D, but then companies from worldwide present their wares to various countries either by themselves and at their own cost, or make offerings in response to Request for Information (RfI) which are floated in routine by all the armed forces to know what is available in terms of newer generation of systems.
Future aircraft carriers of the Indian Navy would also have to be equipped with catapult launching systems, for which it is already looking around. India's second and third aircraft carriers should have this facility along with lifts and adequate open area for what is called free deck takeoff.
The Mig 29Ks that the Indian Navy is buying for Gorshkov, will be launched by a ski ramp.
Tip to tip, the Hawkeye is a bigger aircraft than the Mig 29.
Trudell said that although Northrop Grumman had been allowed to make presentations to the Indian Navy, its sale would have to be direct between the Indian and US government under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. There are many systems on board, developed for US Navy, which only the US government can clear for transfer to other countries.
The US Navy has initially ordered five Hawkeye E-2Ds under a Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) programme, and the first aircraft should be delivered to the US Navy in 2011.
India can get the aircraft within three years of a contract being signed, said Trudell.