Washington: In a deal, potentially worth up to $1.59 billion, the United States has offered to sell India six C-130J Hercules aircraft, along with associated equipment and services. The aircraft will provide the Indian Air Force (IAF) special operations airlift capability and also ensure interoperability with American forces in any coalition operations.
The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), responsible for overseeing all foreign sales, announced on Tuesday that it had notified the US Congress of India's request for the sale of six Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft as required by US law.
The C-130J Hercules, capable of operating from rough, dirt strips, is of flexible design that allows it to be configured for different missions. With the removal of special mission equipment, the Hercules can revert back to its basic cargo delivery role.
"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of an important partner and to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South Asia," DSCA said.
"India and the United States are forging an important strategic partnership. The proposed sale will enhance the foreign policy and national security objectives of the US by providing the Indian Government with a credible special operations airlift capability that will deter aggression in the region, provide humanitarian airlift capability and ensure interoperability with US forces in coalition operations."
The deal includes spare and repair parts, configuration updates, communications security equipment and radios, integration studies, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, technical services, personnel training and training equipment, foreign liaison office support, Field Service Representatives' services, US Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of logistics support.
Offset agreements associated with the proposed sale are expected, but at this time the specific offset agreements are undetermined and will be defined in negotiations between the purchaser and contractors, DSCA said.
The principal contractors will be: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, Texas and Rolls-Royce Corporation in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The announcement of the proposed arms sale does not mean a deal has been concluded. Congress retains the power to block government-to-government arms sales, though it rarely does so.
Indo-US defence framework
In June 2005, India and the United States signed a 10-year defense framework agreement that called for expanded joint military exercises and increased defense-related trade.
According to defence industry observers, if the C-130J deal went through, it would be a breakthrough in a market that US defence contractors and government policymakers have been particularly eager to enter. Boeing Co and Lockheed are currently positioning themselves in India to sell advanced fighter jets as part of the IAF's multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) contract, that could be worth as much as $11 billion.
The proposed sale, according to observers, would also show that Indo-US ties were moving into a new era of strategic cooperation. The two establishments have been traditionally wary of getting involved with each other, given the political alignments of both the countries during the Cold War era. The US relationship with Pakistan has also been a prickly issue that has served to sour relationships between them.
As evidence of a gradually emerging defence relationship, the United States approved the transfer to India of six UH-3H Sea King helicopters from its excess inventory last year. It has also transferred an amphibious transport ship, the USS Trenton, to the Indian Navy that will join the fleet as INS Jalashwa.
The ability of the C-130J to land and take off, even in improvised or short airfields, and without lights, would attract the Indian Air Force in particular. The C-130J Hercules' modern avionics and increased engine power have seen it deliver good performance in "hot and high" conditions, which would reduce the useful load of older Hercules or similar transport aircraft by 50-60%.
The details of the Indian Air Force request are not clear at the moment, but the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency notification to the US Congress says that India's request for 6 C-130J aircraft are for those in Special Forces configuration, along with associated equipment and services.
6 Lockheed Martin C-130J United States Air Force (USAF) baseline aircraft including USAF baseline equipment
4 Rolls Royce AE 2100D3 spare engines
8 AAR-47 Missile Warning Systems (two of them spares)
8 AN/ALR-56M Advanced Radar Warning Receivers (two of them spares)
8 AN/ALE-47 Counter-Measures Dispensing Systems (two of them spares)
8 AAQ-22 Star SAFIRE III Special Operations Suites (two of them spares)
8 ALQ-211 Suite of Integrated Radio Frequency Countermeasures (two of them spares)
2 spare AN/ARC-210 Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS)
8 spare Secure Voice Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency Radios
4 spare Secure Voice High Frequency Radios
3 spare AN/AAR-222 SINCGARS and Key Gen (KV-10) Systems
1 KIV-119 Non-standard Communication/COMSEC equipment
2 ARC-210 Non-standard Communication/COMSEC equipment
Lockheed Martin sources had initially provided a figure of 12-13 aircraft as the size of the likely Indian order, which were expected to operate in a Special Forces role. It is not clear whether the Indian order is for C-130Js with minor customizations, or a J variant of the heavily-modified and much more expensive MC-130J "Combat Talon III" special forces aircraft. The equipment requested by the Indian Air Force, and the cost levels, would seem to indicate an aircraft similar to the Combat Talon.
The ongoing acquisition and modernization drive of the Indian armed forces is also seeing the IAF looking at a major upgrade of its AN-32 fleet, along with that of its 25-30 IL-76 Gajraj strategic transport aircraft. The upgrades would likely extend the life of these aircraft by 10-20 years. Lockheed Martin is also interested in offering the IAF the $60-80 million base version of the C-130J Hercules as a likely replacement for the AN-32.
It is a matter of conjecture whether the IAF will keep its order restricted to just six of these aircraft or extend it to larger numbers. With a deal to design and manufacture a multi role transport aircraft (MRTA), with Russian design bureau Irkut, already in the bag, and the EADS designed Airbus A400M emerging as a likely competitor, the race for a replacement for the IAFs transport fleet is well and truly on.