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US approves sale of anti-ship missiles, torpedoes worth $155 million to India

April 15, 2020

Muhammad Saleh Zaafir

ISLAMABAD: The Trump administration has notified the Congress of its determination to sell Harpoon air-launched anti-ship missiles and Mark 54 lightweight torpedoes worth $155 million (Indian Rs. 1,178 crore) to India to enhance its deterrent capabilities against ‘regional threats’ and to bolster its homeland defence.

The US recognised India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016. This designation allows India to buy more advanced and sensitive technologies from America at par with that of the US’ closest allies and partners. The sale of 10 AGM-84L Harpoon Block II air-launched missiles is estimated to cost $92 million (Rs 699 crore), while 16 MK 54 All Up Round Lightweight Torpedoes and three MK 54 Exercise Torpedoes are estimated to cost $63 million (Rs 478.8 crore), the Defence Security Cooperation Agency said on Monday in two separate notifications to the Congress.

The US State Department made this determination following a request for the two military hardware made by the Indian Government, the Pentagon said amidst China flexing its military muscles in the strategic Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean. According to the Pentagon, the Harpoon missile system will be integrated into the P-8I anti-submarine warfare aircraft to conduct anti-surface warfare missions in defence of critical sea lanes while enhancing inter-operability with the United States and other allied forces.

“India will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. India will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces,” the Pentagon said. While the Harpoon missiles will be manufactured by Boeing, the torpedoes would be supplied by Raytheon, the notification said.

The proposed sale, it said, will improve India’s capability to meet current and future threats from enemy weapon systems. The MK 54 Lightweight Torpedo will provide the capability to conduct anti-submarine warfare missions. “India will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense. India intends to utilize MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes on its P-8I aircraft. India will have no difficulty absorbing these systems into its armed forces,” it said.

In both the notifications, the Pentagon claimed that the proposed sale of these equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region. According to the Pentagon, this proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region.

In the meanwhile, another report suggests that delivery of French made Rafale fighter jets to India will be pushed back due to the coronavirus crisis. The first four aircraft are likely to land in India by July 2020 and not May as earlier scheduled. Defence sources told media on the condition of anonymity that Dassault Aviation’s Bordeaux-Mérignac production facility, which manufactures the Rafale, has been hit by the lockdown in France, which will continue until 11 May. Sources said the training of Indian personnel on the Rafale has resumed in a limited manner, after being stopped completely for a week-and-a-half late in March.

The training flights are operating under strict Covid-19 protocols. The media had reported on 20 March that the Covid-19 pandemic could impact the delivery of Rafales. The first four Rafales had been formally handed over to India in October 2019 and were set to arrive in May. But now the entire schedule has been sent for a toss. “The lockdown in France is till 11 May.

Even then, one is not sure if everyone will be allowed to join back or will be there any new limits,” an official involved in the Rafale project said. A second source added: “Even if everything is opened up, there are certain protocols in place that need to be followed. Permissions will also have to be sought from all the countries over which the Rafale will fly. This will take time.” Four Rafale jets are currently under production at Dassault’s facility, while four others are undergoing trials.

According to the contract, of the 36 Rafales India has ordered, 11 are to be delivered every year. The first set of the Rafale aircraft will be commissioned into the 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’ in Ambala, while a second squadron is set to come up in Hasimara, West Bengal, to secure India’s eastern borders. By integrating the Rafale, the Indian Air Force will have the most potent 4.5-generation fighter aircraft.

Equipped with a wide range of weapons, the Rafale is designed to carry out air dominance, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions. The jet is referred to as an “omni role” combat aircraft.