After almost two decades of negotiations, numerous fighter crashes claiming several young pilots and intense criticism from various quarters, the government on Wednesday decided to acquire 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers from British Aerospace at a total cost of Rs 80 billion.
India will buy the 115-Y model. Out of the 66 AJTs, 24 of them to be procured from Britain in a 'flyaway' condition and rest 42 to be manufactured in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Defence Secretary Ajay Prasad told a press conference after the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the proposal.
The deal will be formally signed after the government settles the final terms with the company representatives in the coming days, Prasad said.
"The decision to acquire AJTs fulfils one of the long-standing needs of the Indian Air Force," he said. Each aircraft would cost approximately Rs 850 million.
The defence secretary said the total package of Rs 80 billion includes the cost of training of pilots, cost of transfer of technology, creation of infrastructure facilities, the licence fee and the cost of production of the aircraft by the HAL.
While the delivery of the aircraft would begin within 35 months of signing of the contract, all the 66 AJTs are expected to be available to the IAF before the end of six years, Prasad said.
"The recommendation of the La Fontaine Committee of 1982 for induction of an Advanced Jet Trainer, which has been subsequently reiterated by the Committee on Fighter Aircraft Accidents under the chairmanship of the then Scientific Adviser (A P J Abdul Kalam, present Indian President) to Raksha Mantri, has finally been implemented," Prasad said.
The contract would also include an inter-governmental guarantee on uninterrupted supply of spare parts for the future. This clause was pushed by the IAF because of Indian Navy's bad experience with the Americans who refused to give spare parts for Sea King helicopters and Sea Harrier fighters after sanctions were imposed after Pokhran-II.
"An inter-governmental agreement with the Government of UK will be concluded to ensure long-term product support," he said.
All the 66 aircraft are expected to be available to the Indian Air Force before the next six years, Prasad said.
The proposal to acquire AJTs for the IAF was first taken in 1984.
Among the other proposals that were cleared along with the AJT are a new generation of VIP jets with protection suites against missile attacks, commando teams with lethal fire power, better equipment for army to detect explosives and a sophisticated Israeli electronic warfare systems for frontline warships.
The government decided to acquire executive jets for VVIP use for the Indian Air Force and the Union home ministry from the Embraer company of Brazil, Prasad said.
On the delivery of the five executive jets from the Brazilian company, Prasad said the first batch of three aircraft will be made available in 19 months from the signing of the contract and the rest in three months after that.
These aircraft, which would cost Rs 727 crore, would be equipped with 'a self-protection suite' -- a safety feature to enable them face any attack including missiles, he said. The suite will be purchased by the IAF from the US and integrated by the Brazilian manufacturer in the aircraft. The suite would be similar to the one fitted in the 'Air Force One' aircraft used by the United States president, he added.
Surface-to-Air missiles SAMs are a powerful weapon with terrorists around the world. An aircraft carrying Israelis was brought down in Kenya recently by terrorists using SAMs, and an Indian-born British citizen was arrested in the US for trying to sell SAMs to 'terrorists' in the US. There is, however, no evidence till now that terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere in the country have SAMs in their possession.
The aircraft would be 14-seater in VIP configuration.
Of these five jets, four will be attached with VVIP Communication Squadron of IAF and one will be given to the Border Security Force under the Union home ministry.
The defence secretary also announced several other steps to modernise the armed forces.
"The CCS has given clearance to the proposal to procure some ship-borne electronic warfare systems for the navy," Prasad said. The systems would be procured from Rafael Ltd of Israel.
The electronic warfare system would provide surveillance and counter-measure abilities to Indian warships, the defence secretary said. The surveillance system would detect incoming aircraft or vessels and any weapons fired from them and would electronically take measures to confuse the incoming weapon.
India would, as of now, buy seven such systems, while the Defence Research and Development Organisation will continue its efforts to develop an indigenous EW system. This indigenous system would be available by the second half of next year, the defence secretary said.
The deal with Israel's Rafael will be worth about $105 million. The deal, Prasad said, may not be signed during the next week visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but would be 'concluded at the earliest'.
The CCS also decided to provide modern equipment such as 'enhanced fire power, state-of-art communication equipment and night vision capability through hand held thermal imagers' to the Ghatak platoons of army battalions. The Ghatak platoons are commando teams, which are part of regular army battalions.
Once their upgrade is complete then the rest of the battalion would also be given such upgrades, the secretary said. He said this upgrade of the Ghatak platoons would cost about Rs 30 billion.
"The CCS has also decided to acquire modern equipment to help the army counter IEDs to equip," the defence secretary said.
Earlier, the CCS met for two hours under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and cleared the multimillion dollar AJT deal.
Those who participated in the meeting included Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission K C Pant and Cabinet Secretary Kamal Pande.
Among the factors that forced the government to decide the mammoth deal is the alarming rate of fighter crashes, especially the MiG-21s.
This is one of the biggest deals to be signed by India in recent times, after the Sukhoi-30 and T-90 tank deals in recent years.
The British government has been staging a major diplomatic offensive to persuade India to buy the jets, with even Prime Minister Tony Blair taking up the cause.
In the past few months another aircraft company, a Czech-US joint venture, too entered the fray with their L159Bs. The US Secretary of State Colin Powell even wrote to the Indian government assuring there won't be any problems with spare parts, even if America imposed military sanctions against India.
The BAe had initially quoted a price of 1.2 billion pound for the sale of Hawks and it had got stuck as India was seeking price reduction of 10 per cent amounting to nearly Rs 6 billion.
India would be the third biggest customer for Hawks, closely following in the footsteps of the British Royal Air Force and the South African Air Force, which have ordered the trainers during the last two months.
Hawk is in worldwide operation with 800 plus aircraft in use by 17 customers and 22 armed forces and the trainers have generated over 1.5 million flight hours in experience.