India to ink biggest $2.2 bn defence deal with US

April 20th, 2008 - 5:34 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) India is set to sign a $2.2 billion deal, its biggest with the US, for eight long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, even as the Indian Navy chief opposed “intrusiveness” in the use of military hardware the country purchases. Negotiations for the purchase of the Boeing-P8I LRMR aircraft are in the final stages and are likely to be wrapped up during Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s visit to the US that began Sunday.

The agreement for the purchase under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route will be signed between the two governments in New Delhi later this year, official sources said.

The P8I, which is based on the Boeing-737 platform, has been specifically developed for the Indian Navy’s requirements. The aircraft, which is still in the conception stage, is expected to fly by 2012.

This will be the second big-ticket purchase from the US a year after a $1 billion agreement inked in February for six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the Indian Army’s Special Forces.

Mehta’s comments on “intrusiveness” came on the sidelines of an international seminar here Saturday.

“There are certain things we can’t agree to. As a sovereign nation, we can’t accept intrusiveness into our system, so there is some fundamental difficulty,” said Mehta.

“The US may have this kind of (end user) agreements with everyone. I don’t believe in that. We pay for something and we get some technology. What I do with it, is my thing,” the navy chief added.

His remarks came after former US Pacific Command chief Admiral Dennis Blair said the India-US military relationship had “slowed down” because New Delhi had not signed three “very basic and routine” agreements.

These are the Mutual Logistic Support Agreement, the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement and the End Use Monitoring Agreement.

“Because they are not signed, the Indian-American military relationship is slowed and there are extra expenses involved for India,” said Blair.

India’s top auditor has remarked adversely on the End Use Monitoring Agreement, saying this has placed restrictions on the deployment of the troop carrier INS Jalashva India purchased from the US for $36.94 million and which was inducted into the fleet last September.

“Restrictive clauses raise doubts about the real advantages from this deal,” the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in his report tabled in parliament in March.

“For example, (there are) restrictions on the offensive deployment of the ship and permission to the (US) government to conduct an inspection and inventory of all articles transferred under the end-use monitoring clause of the LOA (Letter of Offer and Acceptance issued by the US government),” the report added.

The issue had generated much heat in parliament with the Left parties that support the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from outside taking the lead in slamming the restrictive clauses in the deal.

Mehta, however, said there were no restrictive clauses and that the navy was free to deploy the Jalashva in whatever manner it wished.

“There are no restrictions on the manner the ship is deployed,” he told reporters here days after the CAG report was presented.

The three agreements had figured in the discussions here in February between visiting US Defence Secretary Robert Gates with his Indian counterpart A.K. Antony.

Negotiations on the end-user agreement “are almost through but some clauses relating to on-site inspection need to be reworked”, an official had said after the meeting.

“It’s like this: we purchase night vision glasses that are issued to troops on the border. Obviously, we would not like the Americans to visit these areas but we can work our way around this.

“They are prepared to meet us more than halfway to address our concerns. There is no hard line on this. Perhaps we can give them guarantees or access to records,” the official pointed out.

“We have sent a draft to the US and our embassy in Washington will now take the process forward,” he added.

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