NEW DELHI: The US has now proposed joint development and production of futuristic military helicopters as well as infantry combat vehicles in the first such big-ticket programmes under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) with India.
Top government sources said the two projects would be discussed threadbare in the ensuing DTTI meeting (probably February) after the Donald Trump administration takes over in the US on January 20. India has already shown interest in the US offer for participation in its "future vertical-lift (FVL) aircraft" programme, which includes development of five different helicopters or "capability sets" over the next 15 years at a cost of around $8 billion, said the sources.
The US has also suggested that the future infantry combat vehicle (FICV) project can be a trilateral venture with the inclusion of Israel. India is in a wait-and-watch mode about this proposal since it's trying to finalise its own Rs 60,000-crore FICV project, with two private sector players and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) in the reckoning for prototype development.
The earlier projects offered by the US under the DTTI were quite modest in nature despite India looking for "unique and transformative military technologies" to give its armed forces a decisive edge over its rivals. With the US now officially designating India as a "major defence partner" at par with its closest allies to facilitate the transfer of advanced technology, the two new projects are quite ambitious in scope.
But India is unlikely to go in for all the five types of helicopters, which range from light-weight to heavy-lift ones. India and Russia, for instance, have already finalised the production of 200 Kamov-226T light-utility helicopters worth $1 billion, while Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is also independently tasked to develop 187 similar choppers.
India has also inked $3.1 billion deal for 22 Apache attack and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the US, which are slated for delivery in 2019-2020. Nevertheless, the Indian armed forces are in the hunt for 1,200 helicopters of different types over the next 15-20 years to replace their ageing fleets at an estimated cost of over Rs 1.5 lakh crore.
"We can choose the kind of helicopters that suit our interests. Moreover, one to two products are also being identified under each of the seven joint working groups under the DTTI," said a source. Of the first four "pathfinder projects", India has finalised two —mobile generators and nextgen protective ensemble — worth $2 million.