The Indian cabinet has approved the purchase of 10 Boeing C-17 strategic transports, with the largest ever US-Indian arms deal to value $4.1 billion.

India's Cabinet Committee on Security has signed off the Foreign Military Sales deal, said the Indian air force. Separately, an industry source said the Indian government had notified the US embassy in New Delhi of the decision.

The final step in the purchase process will be the signing of a letter of agreement between the Indian and US governments. The air force expects this soon, but is uncertain about the exact timing.

Finalisation of the C-17 deal has been long awaited in Indian defence circles. The air force was first briefed on the aircraft in 2007, and New Delhi officially expressed interest in 2009. This was followed by a formal letter of request to the US in early 2010. The sale received a major boost in late 2010 when US president Barack Obama signed a preliminary agreement for the 10 C-17s during a visit to India.

 C-17 Aero India - Billypix

© Billypix

Boeing vice-president for mobility Jean Chamberlin said the Indian order would extend activities at the company's Long Beach production line in California through 2014. The company is trying to keep production alive through 2017 to be available when the US Air Force decides whether to induct its Lockheed C-5A fleet into a reliability enhancement and re-engining programme, or replace them with additional C-17s.

In April, Boeing Military Aircraft president Chris Chadwick told Indian media that India and the USA were holding informal talks over increasing the order with six additional C-17s.

Though expected, New Delhi's approval of the deal should go some way to soothing US-Indian relations, which were strained when two American aircraft, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, were eliminated from the $10.1 billion medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition.

The rejection was viewed as a snub to the USA, which had mounted a strong effort to win the MMRCA deal. Despite the setback, in recent years Boeing and rival Lockheed have enjoyed strong sales in India. The air force ordered six Lockheed C-130Js in 2008 in a $1.2 billion deal, followed, a year later, by the $2.1 billion purchase of eight Boeing 737-based P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.

While the air force has not outlined specific missions for the C-17, its aircraft are likely to play an important role in supplying remote military outposts in the Himalayas, many of which are inaccessible by road. In service with other air forces, the C-17 has also emerged as a capable platform in dealing with humanitarian crises, a role it will no doubt also be used for in Indian service.

Additional reporting by Stephen Trimble

Source: Flight International