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Mega defence buys lined up for Presidential visits

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The Times of India

NEW DELHI: There is nothing like mega arms deals to sweeten presidential visits. With Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev slated to visit India in quick succession in November-December; India is fast-tracking major defence contracts with US, France and Russia.

The high-profile visits will, of course, see bilateral talks and agreements on a host of non-military issues. But with India being one of the world’s largest importers of military hardware and software, inking contracts worth more than $50 billion since the 1999 Kargil conflict, visits here are often used to push or clinch defence deals to serve larger geo-strategic interests.

So, if France is all set to get the over $2.1 billion Mirage-2000 fighter upgrade contract, India is likely to shell out over $6 billion to join the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth-generation fighter aircraft project.

The Indian and US governments, in turn, are on course to finalize their biggest-ever defence contract for 10 C-17 Globemaster-III giant strategic airlift aircraft, which will come for upwards of $3 billion, under the American Foreign Military Sales programme.

“The Mirage and FGFA contracts will probably be inked during the visits of Sarkozy and Medvedev in December. The ongoing C-17 negotiations, however, might not be concluded by the time Obama comes visiting early November,” said a senior official.

India and France have been negotiating the upgrade of 56 multi-role Mirage-2000s, which were first inducted into IAF combat fleet in the mid-1980s, for over three years now.

But the bone of contention till now was the upgrade price being demanded by French companies Dassault Aviation (aircraft manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator) and MBDA (missile supplier), which was around 30% more than what India was ready to pay. “But the project has been finalized now, with only a few contractual issues left to be ironed out,” said another official.

Similarly, New Delhi and Moscow have for long been negotiating the detailed commercial and design contract for the FGFA, with India keen on inducting 250 of these fighters from cash-strapped Russia from 2017-2018 onwards, as reported by TOI earlier.

Billed as superior to the American F/A-22 ‘Raptor’, the world’s only operational FGFA as of now, the Sukhoi PAK-FA for India will now be tailored to IAF’s requirements, with Hindustan Aeronautics as a co-developer.

“Our FGFA will be much cheaper than Raptor or the F-35 (being developed jointly by US, UK and seven other countries). Phase-I of the FGFA contract with Russia has been finalized, which will now go to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval. Later, Phase-II will be finalized,” the official said.

The US, on its part, is now increasingly cornering a major chunk of the lucrative Indian defence market. After the $2.1 billion for eight P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft inked in 2009, all eyes are now on the C-17 contract. India, in fact, may even go for another six C-17s after the first 10.


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