New Delhi: India is set to award a $1 billion contract to Lockheed Martin for six Hercules transport planes in the biggest military aircraft deal with the US in five decades, an official said on Monday, 28 January.
A formal contract is likely to be issued next month to US-based Lockheed which is also in the race for a $10 billion contract to sell 126 fighter jets to the Indian air force, a defence ministry official said.
“The reserved RFP (request for proposal) will be issued anytime now,” a top ministry source told AFP on condition that he was not identified by name or rank.
A meeting of India’s security cabinet led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week cleared the deal for six C-130J planes for special forces operations and left options open for further purchases, the source said.
The clearance comes ahead of an official trip to India next month by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
“The contract will be the most capital-intensive military aircraft deal awarded to a US firm since the early 1950s when we acquired American Fairchild C-119s,” the official said.
He said the contract would include life-time maintenance support guarantees for the four-engined turboprop transport aircraft which will be used as the “main tactical” plane for special operations.
Lockheed Martin has offered to configure the six Hercules according to India’s needs and equip the 30-metre-long planes with missile and radar warning systems, other ministry officials said.
The technology-starved Indian air force currently operates Soviet-era 10- and 40-tonne capacity transport aircraft and the officials said the Hercules which can haul 20 tonnes would be able to “fill the gap.”
“These are versatile units which can easily land and take off from short, makeshift strips and we are looking at them to fill the gap with their medium-lift capacity,” one official said.
The Hercules, which can be used on humanitarian missions, is part of a 2004 multi-billion-dollar Indian programme to raise world-standard special forces units, other officials said.
The offer came less than a week after India handed a $2.2-billion contract to France’s Dassault to upgrade 51 Mirage-2000 fighter jets that the Indian air force bought in 1985.
Ties with India’s main arms supplier Russia, which accounts for 70% of the country’s military inventory, now face rough weather over delays by Moscow over the refurbishing of a Soviet-era aircraft carrier for the Indian navy and other deals.
Analysts say India, the largest buyer of armaments among emerging nations, is likely to spend $50 billion between now and 2018 to modernise its 1.23-million-strong military, the world’s fourth largest.