NEW DELHI, Jan 4 (IANS) - The US administration has cleared two more missiles - the anti-tank Hellfire air-to-surface missile and the air-to-air Stinger anti-aircraft missile - and a highly sophiscitcated combat radar for the Indian Air Force (IAF).
The missiles, and the Longbow Fire Control Radar (FCR) which operates them, are part of the weapons package on board the Apache 64D Block III attack helicopter that is under consideration for acquisition by India.
The Apache helicopter is built by Boeing, the Hellfire by Lockheed Martin, the Longbow FCR by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, and the Stinger by Raytheon, all of them global majors in military industrial technology.
Apache is one of the two combat helicopters that have competed last year for IAF's global tender for 22 combat helicopters to replace and update its inventory of old, Soviet-vintage Mi-35 (basically Mi-24) helicopters. The other helicopter in competition is the Russian Mi-28.
All field and weapon trials for both these helicopters are over and a decision is likely within the first quarter of this year, according to India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in).
Russia exports all weapons and combat platforms through its state-run Rosoboronexport, while the US government allows certain military and non-military systems to be acquired from various companies under what is called Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) and sensitive technology items either after clearance or through what is known as the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.
The IAF proposes to buy the helicopter platforms under DCS from Boeing, and missiles and weapons from the US government and the army, which operates them, under FMS.
Although the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) is yet to announce the selection, the US government notified the Congress on Dec 22, 2010, of the "possible" sale of these helicopters and combat systems as per the mandatory procedural approval. The idea is that in case India does make its choice in favour of the Apache, then the sale can be progressed without any time delay.
The MoD can send a Letter of Request (LoR) and the US government would issue a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) to seal the deal. The US Army, which is using the Apache in combat operations, has facilitated the trials by bringing the helicopter to India and demonstrating its capabilities in hot and high altitude environments as per the IAF Air Staff requirements.
It may be noted that the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has pegged the price of the 22 helicopters at an "estimated $1.4 billion" inclusive of training, support, spares and engines. The actual price may vary, and go up or down depending on what IAF wants and what the numbers are.
DSCA has sought congressional approval to clear: A possible sale of 50 T700-GE-701D engines, 12 AN/APG-78 Fire Control Radars, 12 AN/APR-48A Radar Frequency Interferometers, 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles, and 23 Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sight/Pilot Night Vision Sensors, rockets, training and dummy missiles, 30mm ammunition, transponders, simulators, global positioning system/inertial navigation systems, communication equipment, spare and repair parts; tools and test equipment, support equipment, repair and return support, personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical documentation, U.S. government and contractor engineering and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistics support to be provided in conjunction with a Apache helicopters.
The air-to-air Stinger is a modification of the shoulder-fired Stinger that the US supplied to the Afghan mujahideen to attack Soviet helicopters in the 1980s.
It may be noted that IAF recently concluded a deal for 24 Boeing anti-ship Harpoon AGM-84L Block II missiles for about $170 million. To be delivered in about two years, these missiles are to be carried by IAF's Jaguar maritime squadrons, which have enhanced vigil over the high seas after the Pakistani terrorists' 26/11 attack on Mumbai in 2008.
DSCA issued another notification to Congress Dec 21, 2010, for 21 more Harpoon Block II missiles that are to be carried by the eight Boeing P8-I maritime reconnaissance aircraft that the Indian Navy is buying. An order for four more of these highly sophisticated aircraft is under process.
According to Vivek Lall, Boeing's Vice President in India for Defence, Security and Space, work on the first batch of P8-Is has already begun after the designs were finalized in consultation with Indian Navy experts, and the first of these aircraft should be delivered to the Indian Navy early in January 2013, around the time the US Navy gets them.
The US Navy has ordered 117 of these aircraft for its next generation maritime multi-mission requirements. India is the first international customer.
Lall described the US Navy P8-I as capable of "long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance while simultaneously providing information to those on its authorized network".