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India to buy 80 Mi-17 helicopters worth $1.2 billion from Russia

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Friday. PTI photo

NEW DELHI (BNS): Giving a fillip to bilateral military ties, India has signed a $1.2 billion contract with Russia to buy 80 Mi-17 V-5 helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF).


The contract was signed on Friday in the presence of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Russian President was here for an annual summit.


The IAF at present flies a large number of Mi-17s and it was also used in the recent Mumbai terror attack to airdrop the NSG commandos. The fact that it has ordered the new version of the aircraft demonstrates its faith in the machine. Russia has promised to deliver all the 80 rotary wing aircraft between 2010 and 2014.


The contract has an off-set provision under which Russia will invest back $405 million in India. The medium lift helicopter will be chiefly used for transport duties, but can also be used in armed conflicts after weaponisation.


The IAF plans to replace the old fleet of Mi-8s with the new helicopters. Around 50 Mi-8s are still operating in the IAF which would be phased out. The choppers, which have been in operation for over 35 years, have lived beyond their age. The officials said the helicopter proved to be the lifeline for troops operating in high altitude areas like Siachen and Ladakh.


IAF's basic requirement for buying a helicopter is that it should be able to fly in high altitude and hot and cold weather conditions. Very few helicopters in the world pass the strict IAF tests. Mi-17s have been able to perform exceptionally well, officials said.


The aircraft can land at an altitude of 18,000 feet and would be equipped with night flying ability. It would become the backbone of India's helicopter operations.


According to officials, the IAF pilots are well trained in operating the Mi-17s as the helicopter is widely used. The IAF is in the middle of a modernisation drive as it wants to consolidate its assets. Apart from medium lift helicopter, it is also considering to buy a large number of light and heavy helicopters.


Russia continues to be India's biggest military hardware supplier. The two sides will soon start fresh negotiations on the price of aircraft carrier admiral Gorshkov (re-christened INS Vikramaditya) which is undergoing retrofitting.

Russia will begin the supply of MiG-29 fighter aircraft for the carrier by early next year.


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