New Delhi: Six days before President Donald Trump lands in India, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared a $2.4 billion deal to buy 24 American-made helicopters for the Indian Navy.
The contract for the MH-60 Romeo helicopters, built by Lockheed Martin, is likely to be signed in the presence of Modi and Trump on February 25.
The deal has been approved by both nations and is being conducted via the Foreign Military Sales route, which is the American version of a government-to-government deal. With Trump making it clear that no trade deal will be signed during his 36-hour trip to India, the Romeo is being showcased as a deliverable aircraft.
Sources said the CCS also deliberated on the procurement of a missile defence system from the US at a cost of $1.86 billion. But final approval to the deal is yet to be given, they added.
Ahead of Trump's visit, the US also approved the sale of an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System to India (IADWS).
What are Romeo choppers?
The MH-60 choppers are essentially submarine hunters. They move ahead of warships and aircraft carriers using sonar technique and torpedoes to detect and destroy submarines and clear the path for the fleet.
The helicopters India buys will come equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedoes. The fairly versatile Romeos can also be used for anti-surface warfare or to attack enemy ships, and also double up as a surveillance and rescue asset.
The need for these choppers arises amid the increasing frequency of Chinese warships and submarines in the Indian ocean. To keep an eye on them, all that the Navy has are Boeing P8i aircraft operating from land.
The Indian Navy's original submarine hunters, the British-made Sea Kings, are too old for the job and are currently on transport duty.
The Navy is in the market to buy 123 made-in-India multi-role helicopters to plug operational gaps but that may not happen any time soon given the cash crunch faced by the defense services.
Defence and security ties between India and the US have been on an upswing in the last six years. The bilateral defence trade touched the $18 billion mark in 2019, reflecting the growing defence cooperation between the two sides.
There has been an indication that the two countries may announce further deepening of defence ties during Trump's visit on February 24-25.
Both sides have been pushing for joint venture and collaboration between private sectors of the two countries in defence manufacturing.
In June 2016, the US had designated India a "Major Defence Partner" intending to elevate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level commensurate with that of its closest allies and partners.