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Arms sale talks lined up with US

New Delhi, Nov. 11: Indian and US defence officials are likely to meet in Delhi this week under a committee of the Defence Policy Group to discuss arms sales and technical cooperation between the two militaries.

The meeting assumes importance against the backdrop of a crunch in some areas of military infrastructure, particularly that of the Indian Air Force, which is stretching resources to train fighter pilots.

The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, said recently that the force was beginning to phase out the MiG21 Fls, the aircraft that is at the core of IAF’s training programme.

The IAF has two squadrons of MiG21 Fls — about 40 aircraft — that are utilised by the Tezpur-based Mig Operational Flying Training Unit to upgrade combat pilots to operational flying. The phasing out of the MiG21 Fls is likely to begin from next month and will be concluded in two years.

Even the using of MiG21Fls for training has been a stop-gap arrangement in the absence of an Advanced Jet Trainer. Sources said with the MiG21 Fls being phased-out, the IAF will begin MiG21 type-96 aircraft for training. The type-96 is used for operational duties. The transfer of type-96s for training will mean a greater demand for operational aircraft.

About a month back, defence ministry sources said a Cabinet note had been prepared recommending that the deal with British Aerospace for the Hawk AJTs be concluded. But the IAF also conducted an evaluation of a prototype of the Czech L-159. The Czech aircraft has a US-made engine and if India opts for it, Delhi will want an assurance that supplies will not be disrupted by the US for political or diplomatic reasons.

The defence secretary, Subir Dutta, who is now in France leading a team from the ministry to negotiate military hardware import is also understood to have a trainer for the IAF on his shopping list.

The crunch in the IAF is of serious concern in defence quarters because the acquisition of a trainer — IAF chief Krishnaswamy is confident the deal will be okayed this year — will take at least two, more likely three, years from the signing of the contract date.

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