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10-year defence pact on agenda

New Delhi, Aug. 2: India and America look set to start talks on a new 10-year defence cooperation agreement from 2015 when US defence secretary Chuck Hagel visits New Delhi next week.

The defence relationship is currently based on a 2005 agreement called the New Framework of Defence Cooperation that was signed when Pranab Mukherjee, now India’s President, was the defence minister. That agreement was to hold good for 10 years.

Following the agreement, India had increased defence purchases from the US and increased military-to-military ties but, in the last two years, the UPA II government had gone slow, with then defence minister A.K. Antony not favouring participation in multilateral military exercises hosted or organised by the US.

Last week, however, the Indian Navy concluded war games under the Malabar series of exercises with the US and Japan in the Pacific. An Indian frigate, the INS Sahyadri, is also currently in a multinational exercise called RIMPAC hosted by the US Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Hagel’s visit would follow that of the US secretaries of state and commerce. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to visit Washington in September.

While the US administration has said it does not expect major defence deals to be signed during Hagel’s three-day visit beginning August 7, the Indian defence establishment is close to finalising contracts for heavy-lift and attack helicopters with the Pentagon. But New Delhi has also said that another contract — for M777 ultra-light howitzers for the artillery divisions — could be cancelled because they were too expensive.

Defence ministry sources say the Defence Acquisitions Council could take a call on purchasing 15 Chinook twin-rotor heavy-lift helicopters and 22 AH 64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters (both made by Boeing) and Hellfire missiles to arm them as early as mid-August. The contracts could top $2.5 billion.

Hagel is expected to urge India for greater participation in the US’s Defence Trade and Technology Initiative by identifying sectors in which Indian companies could enter into joint ventures with American firms.