India wants to ink a deal for six Chinook heavy-duty helicopters by the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets US President Barack Obama on September 27 in Washington.
A half-dozen CH-47 Chinooks, a twin-engined helicopter capable of carrying 50 troops or 6.5 metric tonnes of cargo, will carry a price tag of about $500 million (`3,200 crore).
Introduced in 1962, the Chinook played a major role in the Vietnam war and has been the mainstay of the American forces in Afghanistan.
The Boeing-made helicopters will be bought through the foreign military sales route in which arms are sold in a government-to-government deal on a fixed price basis — ruling out haggling that often invites bribery charge.
The Chinook deal is being fast-tracked, say Indian government sources, and New Delhi hopes to have it finalised by December.
This is partly being driven by a desire to flesh out the thin agenda at the Washington summit. The proposal will be added to the schedule of US deputy secretary of defence Ashton Carter when he comes to New Delhi September 16-18.
The Indian side wants some major defence purchases readied for the summit, but other Indo-US weapons deals are caught in red tape. For example, the M777 howitzer deal has been in the works for two years and now, in part because of rupee devaluation, the price tag is bigger.
The Chinooks also face barriers. Boeing recently tried to add limited liability clauses to its military purchases and the Indian government is not happy about it. US sources say they have yet to receive any notification from the ministry of defence about the Chinooks.
The induction of the Chinooks will confirm the Stars and Stripes look of the Indian Air Force’s airlift capabilities. India has already bought C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift airplanes.
Military sources say the US aircraft have proven better at functioning at high-altitudes then the Russian planes they are replacing.
India has been mulling buying Chinooks to replace the Russian-made Mi-26 transport helicopters that were transformational when they were introduced a quarter-century ago but have a record of chronic maintenance problems.
India will be the 17th air force in the world to use Chinooks.