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Big US arms offer for India

November 29, 2004

NEW DELHI, Nov 28: US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to visit New Delhi early next month and may offer a range of military hardware, including anti-missile radar system and maritime spy planes , Indian news reports said on Sunday.

They said the offer would include the Patriot anti-missile system, C-130 stretched medium lift transport aircraft, P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes -- and even F-16 fighters.

The Indian Express said the offer was discussed by Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen, in New Delhi last week, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Mr Sen also met Congress president and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Mr Rumsfeld is tentatively scheduled to visit India on Dec 9 to 10 and, of course, he will also travel to Pakistan.

Even though the UPA government will be under pressure from its Left allies and the BJP to oppose US arms sale to Pakistan, it has given "positive signals" to the US hardware offer to India.

An influential section of the establishment believes the challenge before India is not to keep objecting to arms sale to Pakistan. Instead, it argues that New Delhi should engage the US for the best military technology and get out of the hyphenated equation.

After all, even at the height of the Cold War, Rajiv Gandhi broke the barrier and got engines and flight control systems for the LCA from the US in 1980s. Patriot anti-missile defence system tackles aircraft and also tactical and Cruise missiles.

The UPA government wants Raytheon to give a presentation on the system. About the 130J-30 Hercules aircraft, the only medium-lift plane in its class that carries tanks and troops to battle, the UPA government is positive, and will take up the offer, the Express said.

On the F-16 plane offered being also offered to Pakistan, the paper said the UPA government was not likely to be interested as India already has Russian Su-30 MKI and French Mirage 2000. The P-3C Orion aircraft, however, offered two years ago, is expected to be picked up. The Indian Navy is keen to have the long-range maritime surveillance platform, with anti-submarine capabilities.

It is learnt that the UPA government has given Mr Sen the clearance to organize a detailed classified presentation of the Patriot system from manufacturers Raytheon soon and has expressed willingness to look at the C-130 Hercules and P-3C Orion offer.

Even though US started offering military hardware to India in 2002, it has so far only supplied ANTPQ fire finders though the offer of P-3C Orion was made during the period and a demonstration flight was held at INS Hamla in Goa.

While there were hitches in Raytheon sharing the classified manuals with New Delhi on the Patriot system in 2002, Washington is understood to have given a green signal to the company for the anti-missile defence system.