New Delhi: The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) Wednesday cleared a US $2.4 billion deal to purchase 24 American multi-role MH-60 ‘Romeo’ anti-submarine helicopters for the Indian Navy ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit next week.
While the cabinet committee cleared the much-needed deal, it has not yet been confirmed if an actual signing of contract will take place during Trump’s visit or an announcement will be made, government sources said. However, they added the contract will be inked soon.
Trump will be in India on a two-day visit from February 24 and will travel to New Delhi and Ahmedabad.
In August 2018, then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman approved the deal for the choppers, manufactured by the Lockheed Martin group, which can operate from Naval vessels. The US approved the sale in April 2019.
The new deal is being done under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, which is the American equivalent of the government-to-government contracts India has carried out with Russia for various systems and the deal made with France for the Rafale fighter jets.
Boost to naval defence
The 24 helicopters are meant to meet the immediate need of the Indian Navy which is also pursuing a separate programme for 123 Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH) under the Make in India initiative.
The helicopters are expected to provide a big boost to the Navy, which is grappling with the ageing British-built Sea King fleet that is now mostly used for transport rather than its actual role — spotting enemy submarines.
Right now, the Boeing P8i aircraft, which operate from land, are being used to keep a vigil on enemy submarines.
Given the increasing forays by Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, the Indian Navy felt it was facing a severe capability gap.
What the MH-60 can do
MH-60 choppers are deployed by the US Navy as its primary anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface weapons system for open ocean and littoral zones (near shore areas).
The Romeo helicopters India is purchasing are likely to be equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and Mark 54 anti-submarine torpedoes.
The submarine hunters will have anti-surface warfare capabilities too, which means they will be capable of detecting surface threats and taking action against enemy ships.
Besides carrying out offensive action, the helicopters are also capable of performing other maritime roles such as search and rescue, logistics support, personnel transport, medical evacuation and surveillance.