India clears US$3.2 billion purchase of naval choppers

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Indian Air Force (IAF) crew members prepare to lower a rope from an IAF MI-17 V-5 helicopter on the first day of the two day campaign ‘Know Your Air Force’ at Nirma University, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on October 5, 2017. (Photo: AFP/ Sam Panthaky)¬†

NEW DELHI: India will purchase more than 100 armed helicopters for its navy to replace its outdated French-designed fleet in a military deal worth US$3.2 billion, an official said Wednesday.

The defence acquisition council approved funding for the purchase of 111 multi-utility helicopters for attack missions, search and rescue, surveillance operations and medical evacuation.

A spokesman for the Indian navy said on Twitter the new aircraft were a huge step toward addressing a “critical void of helicopters” for the naval fleet, which currently uses the French-designed Chetak model.

The government will identify a foreign military hardware company and a local defence firm to develop the helicopters in a joint partnership.

India, the world’s largest defence importer, wants to build more of its hardware in country.

Under a new policy, it is inviting global military manufacturers to set up shop as minority partners in India.

It is banking on foreign companies to bring in new technology in the crucial defence sector, which imports 90 percent of its equipment.

India has been investing tens of billions in updating its Soviet-era military hardware to counter long-standing territorial disputes with its nuclear-armed neighbours China and Pakistan.

The navy’s ageing light-utility helicopter, the Chetak, is a licensed version of a French model built by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited since 1975.