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US-India $3 bn defence deals on the cards

February 21, 2020

NEW DELHI: President Donald Trump will get the good news of the US bagging two more lucrative Indian defence contracts worth $3 billion, with several other deals worth over $7 billion being in the pipeline, when he visits India for almost 36 hours early next week.

The Indian cabinet committee on security (CCS), chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Wednesday gave the final nod to the two deals to acquire 24 MH-60 `Romeo’ naval multi-mission helicopters for Indian Rs15,157 crore ($2.12 billion) and six additional AH-64E Apache attack choppers for Indian Rs5,691 crore ($796 million) from the US, said top sources.

“The contracts for the 30 heavy-duty armed choppers, or the `letters of acceptance’ as they are called under the foreign military sales (FMS) programme of the US government, will be inked soon after Trump’s visit since the validity of the two commercial offers expires in February and March. The original costs were a little higher but have been brought down through negotiations. The payment will be done in instalments, with the first one being 15% of the total value,” said a source.

‘Times of India’ on February 13 had reported the two chopper deals were going to be cleared by the CCS, and that they would take the total value of Indian defence contracts bagged by the US to well past the $20 billion mark just since 2007.

The US has also moved ahead on its offer for a missile shield system to protect the India capital. Progress has also been made on the sale of the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS) to India under a Foreign Military Sales pact.

Ahead of the US president’s much-anticipated visit, Lockheed Martin has offered a helping hand to India in developing next-generation advanced aircraft equipped for multi-role combat, according to a PTI report. Lockheed Martin manufactures powerful fighter jets such as F-16s and F-35s. The American aerospace giant has also shared its willingness to cooperate with India to develop Indian-built Tejas into a much more effective fighter plane. The company is very open to requirements from the Narendra Modi government and Indian Air Force for the development of Advanced Multi-role Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and upgrading the indigenous Tejas into a superior fighter jet, the report quoted Lockheed Martin’s Vice President of Strategy and Business Development Vivek Lall as saying.

Meanwhile, Indian government officials said it would be incorrect to say the India-US trade deal is ‘stuck’, calling it an ‘ongoing process’ between the partners.

“We don’t want to rush into a trade deal. Trade issues are complicated. We are not in a hurry to rush into a trade deal that has potential implications on people’s lives and also has a long-term impact. We are still facing the issues arising out of the FTAs (free trade agreements) we had in 2010 and 2011,” said a top government source, on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Congress criticised the US president’s remarks he made ahead of his visit — that India has not been fair to the US. It said the remarks “undermined” all the progress in bilateral relations achieved under former PMs Atal Bihari Vajpayee and carried forward by Manmohan Singh.

Demanding that the government should respond to Trump’s barb, Congress leaders said, “The president of the US, on the eve of his visit to India, has made certain remarks. It is an insult and affront to the dignity of the country and the Ministry of External Affairs should respond to it.”

On the other hand, the Narendra Modi government is making insane efforts to make Trump visit historic by hiding filth, deodorising river Agra and taking various other measures.

On its part, the government of PM Modi's home state Gujarat is doing almost everything it can to make this Ahmedabad visit a lifetime memory for Trump. A wall is being built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums along Trump's way to Motera stadium. Seven million people are expected to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump along the roads of Gujarat. Nearly 14,000 litres of water have been released in Yamuna to reduce the stench near Taj Mahal.

Set to land in India on his maiden visit as US president next week, Donald Trump has said the "million" word again: "He (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) told me we will have seven million people between the airport and the event. And the stadium, I understand, is sort of semi under construction, but it's going to be the largest stadium in the world. So, it's going to be very exciting."

On an earlier occasion, he had referred to 50,000-audience at 'Howdy, Modi' event in Houston during PM Modi's US visit in September 219. Donald Trump was visibly in awe of the massive crowd. Here too, there are suggestions that Trump's "million" comments arise from gaps in communication and understanding between the Indian unit lakh and US's million.

For President Trump's claim of PM Modi promising 7 million or 70 lakh people along the roadside to greet him, Ahmedabad's population must have grown exponentially - including massive wave of in-migration from outside even if all of city dwellers come out to replicate the 'Howdy, Modi' gesture. The Houston event was, however, not organised by the US or Texas government.

To keep stray animals away from the vision of Donald Trump, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has deployed teams from its Cattle and Dog Nuisance Control Department (CDNCD). They are capturing stray dogs and other animals particularly the nilgais (blue bulls). Trump and Modi are to address a public meeting at Motera stadium — billed to be the world’s largest cricket stadium.

Making his first official trip to India, Trump is also expected to visit the humble abode of India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad. Authorities in Ahmedabad expect to spend around 800 million to 850 million Indian rupees ($11-12 million) on preparations for the visit by the American president that is likely to last around three hours, two government officials with direct knowledge of the plans told Reuters.

Security-related costs, with more than 12,000 police officers expected to be deployed, will account for almost half the expense, said the officials.