Washington: India and the US have signed a billion-dollar (about Rs3,900 crore) deal for purchase of six Super Hercules C-130J military transport planes from Lockheed Martin, with options for another six. The signing of the deal is being hailed as a breakthrough by the American defence and diplomatic establishment as well as American aerospace majors eyeing a slice of the Indian defence pie.
Pentagon officials have described the deal as being important as it breaks the "psychological barrier" in bilateral defence cooperation. (See: Indo-US defence ties: Tasting the Lockheed blend)
The deal was signed at the end of last month following clearance from the Indian Union cabinet's committee on security affairs. Aircraft deliveries to the Indian Air Force are expected to begin in 2011.
The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft that has the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. In December 2006 it became the fourth aircraft after the English Electric Canberra in May 2001, B-52 Stratofortress in January 2005 and the Tupolev Tu-95 in January 2006 to mark 50 years of continuous use with its original primary customer, the United States Air Force.
The C-130J Super Hercules is the newest version of the Hercules and a very different aircraft from earlier versions. These differences include new Rolls-Royce Allison AE2100 turboprops with six-bladed composite scimitar propellers, digital avionics (including Head-Up Displays (HUDs) for each pilot), reduced crew requirements (2 pilots - no navigator or flight engineer), increased reliability and up to 27% lower operating costs.
The C-130J is also available in a standard-length or stretched -30 variant.
Commenting on the deal, a top US defence official was quoted as saying the agreement would set the stage for American companies to bid for the contract for multi-role combat aircraft.
Lockheed is also bidding against Russian and European competitors for the sale to the Indian Air Force of 126 multi-purpose combat aircraft.
Boeing Co is in contention for another billion-dollar contract, this time for the Indian Navy, for eight next generation maritime surveillance aircraft, where apparently it has been short-listed as the winning contender with its P-8i aircraft, a version that is based on its classic 737 platform.