(Adds comment on possible role for plane in navy, paras 9-10)
By Sanjeev Miglani
NEW DELHI Jan 28 India is set to become the
first country since World War Two to buy a military aircraft
from Japan, helping Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dismantle a ban on
weapons exports that has kept his country's defence contractors
out of foreign markets.
The two countries are in broad agreement on a deal for the
ShinMaywa Industries amphibious aircraft, which could
amount to as much as $1.65 billion, Indian officials said on
However, several details need to be worked out and
negotiations will resume in March on joint production of the
plane in India and other issues.
New Delhi is likely to buy at least 15 of the planes, which
are priced at about $110 million each, the officials said.
"Its a strategic imperative for both sides, and it has been
cleared at the highest levels of the two governments," said an
Indian military source.
For the moment, a stripped-down civilian version of the
US-2i plane is being offered to India, to get around Japan's
self-imposed ban on arms exports. A friend or foe identification
system will be removed from the aircraft, another defence
The two countries are discussing assembling the aircraft in
India, giving India access to Japanese military technology,
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said.
The plane has a range of over 4,500 km (2,800 miles), which
will give it reach far into Southeast Asia from the base where
the aircraft are likely to be located, in the Andaman and
Nicobar island chain that is near the western tip of Indonesia.
The navy plans to use the Japanese-built plane to support
ships on long range missions, the military source said, a role
that is increasing as it steps up its profile across the Indian
Ocean to counter rival China.
"You are sailing further and further away, and ships break
down at sea. You can either wait for reinforcements to arrive
by sea or bring in an amphibian right next to the stricken
ship," the source said.
The two governments have set up a joint working group that
will meet in March to consider plans to either set up a plant in
India to assemble it under licence by an Indian state
The plan is to deliver two aircraft and then assemble the
rest of the planes with an Indian partner, the military source
The deal lays the ground for a broader Japanese thrust into
India, the world's biggest arms market dominated for long by
Russia but now also buying hardware from Israel and the United
"There is a whole amount of defence-related cooperation,
between India and Japan," said Gautam Bambawale, an Indian
foreign ministry official responsible for East Asia.
"We want Japanese technology, we want Japanese capital
investment into India."
India's navy is also interested in Japanese patrol vessels
and electronic warfare equipment as Tokyo moves further along in
easing its ban on military exports, the Indian officials said.
Abe discussed the aircraft deal with Singh during a trip to
New Delhi last weekend as ties rapidly warm between the two
nations at a time when both are embroiled in territorial
disputes with China.
"Our Joint Working Group on US-2 amphibian aircraft has met
to explore the modalities of cooperation on its use and
co-production in India. More broadly, we are working towards
increasing our cooperation in the area of advanced
technologies," Singh said.
Abe is seeking a more assertive military and national
security posture for Japan, whose post-war constitution, written
by U.S.-led occupation forces, renounces war and a standing
Abe's government vows to review Japan's ban on weapons
exports, a move that could reinvigorate struggling defence
contractors like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and
Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.
Mitsubishi Heavy is in advanced talks to supply parts for
the F-35 stealth fighter to Britain's BAE Systems, in
what would be the first involvement of a Japanese manufacturer
in a global weapons programme, according to people with
knowledge of the discussions.
India is a top market for defence hardware, buying some
$12.7 billion in arms during 2007-2011, according to the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI),
everything from basic military goods to an aircraft carrier.
New Delhi been trying to build up a domestic manufacturing
industry and has leaned on foreign suppliers to consider
transfer of technology or joint production as a condition for
(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Raju