US plans breakthrough military plane sale to India

Updated on May 31, 2007 12:53 PM IST
The Bush administration announced plans to sell India six Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J cargo planes and related gear worth up to $1.1 billion.
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Reuters | ByJim Wolf, Washington

The Bush administration announced plans to sell India six Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J cargo planes and related gear worth up to $1.1 billion in what would be the first major US military aircraft deal with India.

The sale would bolster a "US-Indian strategic relationship that continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in South Asia," the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice to Congress made public this week.

The C-130J Super Hercules would give India "a credible special operations capability that will deter aggression in the region, provide humanitarian airlift capability and ensure interoperability with US forces in coalition operations," said the memo to lawmakers, dated Friday.

The four-engine turboprop is a US workhorse in Afghanistan and Iraq. India has requested as many as six of them along with four Rolls-Royce Plc spare engines, eight AAR-47 missile warning systems and communications equipment, the security agency said.

The arms package's estimated cost was $1.1 billion, it said, including personnel training and US government and contractor engineering and logistics support.

During the Cold War, India relied largely on the Soviet Union for arms but it is increasingly eyeing advanced equipment from the United States. In June 2005, India and the United States signed a 10-year defense framework agreement that called for expanded joint military exercises and increased defense-related trade.

The Bush administration has sought closer ties with India partly as a hedge against China's growing military might.

Arms sales typically bind military establishments more closely as they train together, build contacts in the chain of command and ease the way for potential coalition operations.

Richard Aboulafia of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Teal Group, an aerospace consultancy, said if the C-130J deal went through, it would be a breakthrough in a market that US defense contractors and policymakers have been eager to enter.

India's interest in the C-130J shows that, among other things "the Indian military can act to acquire hardware faster than anyone here expected," Aboulafia said. Boeing Co. and Lockheed are jockeying with foreign suppliers to sell India advanced fighter jets worth as much as $8 billion.

Lisa Curtis, an India expert at the private Heritage Foundation who has worked on South Asia on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at the State Department, said the proposed sale showed US-Indian ties were moving into a new era of strategic cooperation.

"In the past, the Indian military establishment has been suspicious of getting involved in any major military deals because of past US sanctions tied to Indian nuclear tests," she said in a telephone interview.

Another obstacle to cementing strategic ties has been the US relationship with Pakistan. New Delhi has been concerned about US willingness to sell military hardware to Pakistan, including advanced F-16 fighters.

Last year, the United States approved the transfer to India of six UH-3H Sea King helicopters from its excess inventory as part of growing military-to-military ties, the security agency's records show. It also transferred to New Delhi the Trenton, an amphibious transport ship.

The agency said the proposed C-130J sale was expected to be accompanied by offset agreements to be defined in negotiations between India and US contractors. Such quid-pro-quos can involve everything from technology transfer to resale pacts for local produce.

The announcement of a proposed arms sale is required by US law. It does not mean a deal has been concluded. Congress retains the power to block government-to-government arms sales but rarely does so.

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