The US has cleared the sale of two dozen multi-role MH-60R Seahawk maritime helicopters to India for an estimated $2.6 billion, the US State Department announced Wednesday, in a boost to the Indian Navy’s anti-submarine capabilities against an expansionist China.
The approval comes a week after India inducted the first four of 15 Boeing Co.-made Chinook heavy-lift helicopters ordered last year. India also ordered 22 Apache attack helicopters from the US last year.
The Seahawk helicopters made by Lockheed Martin Corp. would be equipped with weapons such as Hellfire missiles, torpedoes and rockets. The proposed deal also includes one MH-60B/R Excess Defense Article (EDA) helicopter from the US Navy.
India is the second-largest importer of arms worldwide, just behind Saudi Arabia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s 2018 report. Leading arms sellers to India include Russia, Israel and the US.
Once inducted, the Seahawk helicopters will replace India’s ageing British-made Sea King fleet that has been in service since 1971, as per the Indian Navy’s website. India has projected a need for more than 123 multi-role helicopters for its Navy.
India made its request for the 24 Seahawk helicopters to the US in November in a government-to-government deal under the Foreign Military Sales route. The request was made weeks after the two countries signed the Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA), a “foundational agreement’’ that allows the US to legally share high-end encrypted communication and satellite data with a friendly partner nation.
The Seahawks—described as a multi-mission maritime helicopter by Lockheed Martin—are expected to add to India’s defensive capabilities. “These are multi-role helicopters—that is they can perform a variety of functions, including surveillance, replenishment and search and rescue. Principally, however, these helicopters are designed for an anti-submarine warfare role. The Indian Navy suffers a shortfall in numbers of ASW helos. The new acquisition is a replacement for the Sea King Mk-42s whose numbers are fast depleting," said Abhijit Singh, an analyst at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank.
“They are to be employed mainly to sanitize littoral spaces where the Indian Navy’s warships are likely to be deployed," he said.
Such helicopters, with anti- submarine capability are critical assets for any navy, he said adding that many of India’s frontline warships have been operating without integral helicopters.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region," the US State Department said in a statement.
“India will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defence," the State Department said in its notification to the US Congress, adding India will have no difficulty absorbing these helicopters into its armed forces. “The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," it added.