Washington: India has agreed to buy six Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130J military transport planes in a breakthrough deal with the US worth about $1 billion (Rs3,960 crore) that opens a door to closer strategic ties, US officials said.
India and the US signed an agreement on 31 January for Lockheed to start delivering the four-engine Super Hercules turboprop aircraft in 2011, said Bruce Lemkin, who handles US Air Force international affairs.
The deal marks a major shift in weapons buying policy by India, which for decades has relied heavily on Russian arms and transport aircraft.
High-flyer: A C-130J Hercules aircraft. India will buy six of these aircraft from the US in a $1 billion deal.
The US has been eager to boost strategic ties with India as a hedge against China’s military clout. Nicholas Burns, the No.3 US State Department official whose retirement was announced last month, wrote late last year that in reaching out to India, the US was betting the planet’s future lay in democracy and market economics rather than “despotism and state planning,” an apparent swipe at communist-ruled China.
“It really provides the centrepiece of a growing relationship between our two air forces,” Lemkin, a deputy undersecretary of the Air Force who had been working on the matter for almost two years, said in a telephone interview.
James Clad, deputy assistant US secretary of defence for South and South-East Asia, said the deal dwarfed all US defence sales to New Delhi since India’s independence.
“This kind of puts us in a new environment,” he said in an interview. “With this sale, India is telling us it’s ready to buy top-quality US equipment on its merits.”
“It positions us to be in the Indian defence market for years to come,” he said.
Lemkin said the agreement provided for US logistics support, training and spare parts as well as the aircraft.
Indian airmen would start training in the US, probably in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2010, the year before deliveries start, he said.
Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which handles government-to-government arms sales, notified Congress of the possible sale last May, putting its potential value at $1.06 billion (Rs4,198 crore) if all options were exercised.
Lockheed, the Pentagon’s No.1 supplier by sales, and Boeing Co., its next biggest supplier, are bidding against Russian and European rivals for a potential $10.2 billion (Rs40,392 crore) deal to sell the Indian Air Force 126 new multi-purpose fighter aircraft.
Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed said it was pleased to see the acquisition process moving forward in India.
“The C-130J Super Hercules will provide the Indian Air Force with a highly advanced, flexible platform that will meet the range of missions unique to India,” said Cheryl Amerine, a company spokeswoman.
Officials at the Indian embassy in Washington did not return phone calls seeking comment.