NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India cleared the purchase of close to 300 billion rupees ($4.74 billion) worth of new defense equipment on Tuesday, including four maritime spy planes from Boeing Co and hundreds of air defense guns, a defense ministry spokesman said.
The largest order approved was for 428 L-70 and ZU23 air defense guns worth around 169 billion rupees, the spokesman said after a meeting of India’s Defence Acquisition Council.
The guns are to be manufactured in India, the spokesman said, part of the government’s push to expand the domestic defense industry and end the country’s status as the world’s largest arms importer.
New Delhi is in the midst of a huge military modernization program, and analysts expect it to spend as much as $250 billion over the next decade, attracting western manufacturers who are battling cuts in defense budgets at home.
Slow procurement and a series of canceled orders under the previous government have slowed investment in India’s military and left it short of necessary equipment, a problem Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to end since coming to power last year.
Modi is also trying to strengthen defense ties with the United States, which has emerged as one of India’s main sources of weaponry in recent years.
In June, the countries agreed a 10-year defense cooperation pact. They will expedite talks on cooperating on jet engines and aircraft carriers, with India keen to gain access to state-of-the-art U.S. technology for its planned carrier.
The purchase from Boeing, worth 43.8 billion rupees, is a follow-on order from an earlier deal for eight of its P-8I spy aircraft agreed in 2009 and comes as India looks to bolster its navy to check China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean.
India recently took delivery of its seventh P-8I from Boeing, with the eighth due later this year.
($1 = 63.2965 Indian rupees)
Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Nigam Prusty; Editing by Keith Weir, Larry King