New Delhi, Sept. 22: The Centre today decided to award contracts worth $3.1 billion - around Rs 20,400 crore - to the US to buy attack and heavy-lift helicopters.
The decision to buy 22 AH64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters equipped with Hellfire missiles and 15 CH-47 Chinook helicopters was taken nearly three years after the Indian Air Force selected them through trials to replace ageing Soviet/Russian-origin rotorcraft in its fleet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit the US for a week from tomorrow with the clearance to buy the heavy-duty military equipment made by Boeing in his hands.
The choice of the 22 AH64D Apache helicopters in itself is significant because it indicates that New Delhi is shaking off its perceived reluctance to acquire lethal platforms from the US outright.
Other major US aerial and surface platforms the Indian military has procured in recent times have both military and civilian applications.
For example, the INS Jalashva (earlier the USS Trenton) amphibious ship can be used for both offensive amphibious operations as well as disaster relief. Similarly, the P8i aircraft the navy has acquired is used mainly for maritime surveillance though it can also be used to attack submarines.
The Apache Longbow, in contrast, is meant specifically for lethal operations, in terms of close-air support to ground forces and to attack enemy armour.
The Apaches will gradually replace the Soviet-origin Mi-25 and Mi-35 helicopter gunships with the IAF.
Two years ago, the defence ministry under A.K. Antony had also cleared in-principle the acquisition of 39 similar helicopters for the army. The proposal is yet to gain traction. But India and the US have agreed that New Delhi may order an additional 11 Apaches if it wants.
The twin-rotor Chinook will replace and add to the fleet of the Mi-26 Russian-origin helicopter that the IAF operates. The IAF used to operate a fleet of four Mi-26 helicopters - the largest of its kind in the world - but it has found it difficult to keep the machines operational at all times because of a shortage of spares from the erstwhile Soviet Union.
India retains the option of ordering an additional seven Chinooks. The Chinooks, which can transport heavy artillery underslung, can carry personnel as well as cargo.