Plans to re-equip the Indian armed forces are moving ahead, with government approval to purchase six Lockheed Martin C-130Js and a fresh tender for utility helicopters.

The $1 billion C-130 contract will be the biggest defence deal between India and the USA if confirmed, as expected, during US defence secretary Robert Gates' visit to New Delhi in March. Deliveries should start three years after the contract is signed.

The C-130Js are intended for India's special forces. Jim Grant, Lockheed's vice-president for air mobility and special operations, says the aircraft configuration for India "is different from any of the C-130Js being manufactured for international customers."

New Delhi has also issued a request for information for utility helicopters to AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopter, Eurocopter and Kamov. An earlier competition for 197 helicopters for the Indian army was cancelled in December, as it was about to be awarded to Eurocopter, because of allegations of irregularities in the tender process. The EADS subsidiary denies the accusations.

This time, India is combining army and air force requirements and seeking more than 300 helicopters in a deal potentially worth about $1 billion. Responses are expected in the next two months, and India is likely to issue a request for proposals around the end of 2008. Most of the helicopters would be built in India, with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics the main contractor.

Defence ministry officials say the tender, which is to replace HAL Cheetahs and Chetaks that have been in service more than 30 years, will be put on a fast track to make up for lost time. But observers say trials are likely to be conducted only in 2009 and any contract will be signed no earlier than 2010. Deliveries would then begin in 2011, almost two years later than expected.

Both deals are part of a protracted effort to rejuvenate the Indian armed forces. New Delhi is evaluating the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, Saab Gripen and Sukhoi Su-35 for a requirement for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. It is also looking for new maritime patrol aircraft and attack and heavy-lift helicopters and attack helicopters.

Source: Flight International