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Trump’s visit may seal helicopter deal

Defence pacts likely during U.S. President’s visit

The deal for 24 MH-60R Multi-Role Helicopters (MRH) for the Navy, which is likely to be announced during the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, is lined up for the final approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Wednesday, official sources said.

“The deal is before the CCS for final approval which is meeting on Wednesday. We are hopeful that it will be cleared,” a defence source told The Hindu .

All procedural requirements for the deal have been completed, he added.

Trade deal unlikely

The 24 Lockheed Martin-built helicopters, worth $2.4 billion, are being procured through the Foreign Military Sales route of the U.S. government.

Mr. Trump will visit India on February 24 and 25. With no headway in the talks for a trade deal, there are expectations that a few big-ticket defence deals will be announced.

There are several big-ticket deals in the pipeline. These include six Boeing P-8I long-range surveillance aircraft and 13 BAE Systems-built 127-mm MK-45 naval gun systems worth around $1 billion for the Navy, six AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for the Army, 30 armed drones for the three services and a tactical air defence system for Delhi.

However, these are at various stages of procurement.

“Apart from the deal for MH-60R helicopters, an announcement is possible on P-8I and Apache,” a second official source said.

In the last few years, India has signed two foundational agreements: the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), which is part of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed long time ago.

The last agreement, Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA), is under discussion.

“BECA is some time away from conclusion,” a third official said.

Apart from defence cooperation, of particular interest will be any progress in Indo-Pacific cooperation, especially the upgrade of the 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.

MRH shortage

The Navy is facing an acute shortage of MRH, with several warships operating with empty helicopter decks. These helicopters are being procured as replacement for 15 Sea King Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopters de-inducted in 1991 and one Sea King 42B MRH lost in accident.

The MRHs in service, Sea King 42Bs, were inducted in the 1980s and are in need of replacement.

Given the urgency, the U.S. is likely to take some MH-60R helicopters from its newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald Ford , which is undergoing upgrades.

“We are hopeful of getting four or five MH-60s from USS Gerald Ford once the deal is signed,” a Navy official said.

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