India has revived the stalled project to acquire a dozen Japanese US-2i amphibious aircraft, worth around Rs 10,000 crore, ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo on November 11-12 to further cement the bilateral strategic partnership.
While the inking of a civil nuclear cooperation agreement is likely to be the centrepiece of the meeting between Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, sources say the declaration of India’s intention to acquire the US-2i aircraft is also going to be a major highlight of the summit.
The US-2i project, with six of the huge amphibious planes each for the Navy and Coast Guard, is also slated to be taken up by the defence acquisitions council (DAC) meeting to be chaired by defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday. “The DAC will take up the… inking of a bilateral MoU between the two countries for the procurement of the 12 aircraft,” said a source.
Powered by four big turbo-props, the US-2i is capable of short take-offs from land as well as water. While basically meant for search and rescue operations, the US-2i can also rapidly transport 30 combat-ready soldiers to “hot zones” in an emergency.
Though the Navy has much more critical operational requirements ranging from submarines to multirole helicopters, the proposed US-2i deal is intended to send a strong signal to an increasingly belligerent China in the Asia-Pacific region.
Both India and Japan are wary of the China’s aggressive territorial claims. India has till now ruled out joining the quadrilateral security dialogue proposed by the US, with Japan and Australia being the other members. But Japan since 2014 has become a regular participant of the annual Malabar naval exercise between India and the US, which has riled China.
Negotiations for the US-2i aircraft deal, which will be the first-ever purchase of military equipment from Japan since it ended its five-decade old self-imposed embargo to export military hardware, have been underway since 2013 but were stalled on the high costs involved.
Japan has now agreed to somewhat reduce the price, which was earlier pegged at $1.6 billion or Rs 10,720 crore for the 12 aircraft, to clinch the deal and expand its strategic partnership with India.