NEW DELHI: India has offered to increase an order for US Apache helicopters to drive down costs as the two sides race to close a $1.4bn deal, officials said, the first big military contract since a new government took office in New Delhi.
The Apache gunships and a deal for Chinook helicopters, both built by Boeing, top the agenda for visiting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s talks today with India’s administration led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Washington is keen to step up defence cooperation with India, which it sees as a key strategic partner in Asia in the face of an increasingly powerful and assertive China.
India has offered a follow-on order of 39 AH-64D Apache helicopters in addition to the 22 now being negotiated, a defence ministry official said. The two sides have been wrangling over the price of the gunships in a deal estimated to be worth $1.4bn.
The initial batch of helicopters is meant to replace the Indian Air Force’s ageing fleet of Soviet-era aircraft and will be armed with Hellfire and Stinger missiles.
The Indian army has separately requested a fleet of at least 39 of these attack aircraft, some of which will be deployed as part of a new mountain division it is raising along the disputed border with China, an army official said.
“The point is we are looking at 60 to 70 pieces eventually, so the expectation is the vendor will factor that in, in the price negotiations,” said the defence ministry official, asking not to be named in line with ministry policy.
The two sides are also in talks to finalise a contract for the Indian Air Force to buy 15 CH-47F Chinooks, a twin-rotor helicopter capable of lifting heavy loads, also valued at $1.4bn.
Hagel’s trip is focused on converging US and Indian interests in the Asia-Pacific, the Pentagon said.
Hagel will discuss ways to strengthen military cooperation with India, including exercises, defence, trade, co-production and co-development, Pentagon press secretary Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby said.