India and Japan set to forge aircraft deal
NEW DELHI, Feb 26: India is getting set to acquire the massive ShinMaywa US-2i amphibious aircraft from Japan as part of their expanding bilateral strategic partnership, with both nations wary of China's assertive behaviour in the Asia-Pacific region.
The defence acquisitions council (DAC), chaired by Manohar Parrikar, on Saturday will take up the proposal to "empower" the joint working group (JWG) to negotiate the purchase of at least 12 US-2i aircraft for the Navy for around $1.3 billion.
"It will be like an AON (acceptance of necessity) that the Navy requires 12 US-2i as of now, and the commercial negotiations for them can begin. The Coast Guard, in turn, may require five such planes," said a defence ministry source.
The JWG set up by India and Japan has been discussing "cooperation on the US-2 amphibian aircraft", including technology transfer and licenced production, since 2013 but a decisive stage seems to have been reached now.
When PM Narendra Modi visited Japan last September for talks with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, the two directed the JWG to "accelerate progress in the discussions and preparations for a roadmap for the development of the Indian aircraft industry through the US-2 aircraft cooperation". This, as is evident, envisages a much bigger project in the making, which will probably kick-off with the initial defence acquisition of 12 aircraft.
The Modi government has also asked Japan, which recently lifted its five-decade-old arms export embargo, if it's interested in fielding its Soryu-class submarines for the over Rs 50,000 crore project to build six stealth submarines in India.
But Japan, with no experience of hawking its military wares, is likely to find it difficult to participate in a competition that will also have Russia, France, Germany and others in the fray. The US-2i project, however, is more of a direct government-to-government deal without such obstacles.
The US-2i is quite a unique aircraft, capable as it is of short take-offs from land as well as water with a range of over 4,500 km. Powered by four big turbo-props, it can land even on rough seas amid three-metre high waves.
Though basically designed for air-sea search and rescue operations, the US-2i canalso rapidly transport 30 combat-ready soldiers to "hot zones" in an emergency.
"The aircraft will give a huge boost to our operational logistics in areas like the far-flung but strategically critical Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It can also land spares and equipment in close proximity to warships on the high seas," said an official.
Incidentally, the relatively new naval air station INS Baaz at Campbell Bay in the A&N archipelago overlooks the Malacca Strait while dominating the Six-Degree Channel, in keeping with India's overall policy to counter China's strategic moves in the Indian Ocean region as well as ensure security of shipping lanes.