Los Angeles/New Delhi: The US Congress has cleared the sale of C-17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft for India.
The Obama administration had notified the Congress April 23 of the potential sale of 10 aircraft to India and sought out objections or approval.
The Congressional consent has come before Wednesday`s start of the Indo-US strategic dialogue in Washington Wednesday.
The aircraft are being sold to India under the US government`s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme, with the maximum package value of $5.8 billion. That includes the 3.8 percent administrative fee the government charges to ensure timely delivery and guarantee the supplies.
Government-to-government deals may not necessarily be cheaper but ensure a hassle-free environment and a near-zero scope for corruption. In legal terms, such deals also ensure sovereign guarantees.
According to a report in India Strategic magazine, in the case of Gorshkov deal with Russia, after the recent agreement between New Delhi and Moscow, Moscow agreed to ensure the aircraft carrier`s delivery by Dec 4, 2012 -- just before the Indian Navy Day.
During the discussions to revise the 2004 Gorshkov agreement between the two countries, Russia also ensured that work on rebuilding the carrier was not stopped.
The actual cost of the C-17 aircraft for India would be less as India would not be buying all the options and the 3.8 percent fee would be payable only on the actual amount of the deal. In some countries, the administrative fee ranges up to 18 percent.
Boeing India`s Vice President for Defense, Space and Security, Vivek Lall, told India Strategic from Washington: "We are pleased that India`s intent to buy 10 C-17 Globemaster III has received US Congressional approval. With this, the Indian government is one step closer to acquiring the C-17 which we believe is ideally suited to meet India`s airlift needs for military and humanitarian purposes.
"The submittal of the Letter of Acceptance to the government of India will be the next step towards finalizing the Foreign Military Sale."
The Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief of Staff, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, said last year that IAF was looking for 10 plus 10 C-17s, described in its parlance as VHTAC, or Very Heavy Transport Aircraft, as a replacement for its ageing fleet of Soviet vintage IL-76 transport jets.
India has 17 IL-76 transporters, another six as IL-78 midair refuelers and one as an AWACS with Israeli Phalcon electronic rodome radar.
But IL-76 is out of production after the demise of the Soviet Union, and whatever useable airframes were available, they have mostly been taken by China.
An IL-76 can carry up to 45 tonnes of cargo while a C-17 can carry about 75 tonnes, and for a much longer range. A C-17 can land from grassy, football field size strips and needs only three crew members as against seven for an IL-76.
It does cost much more though.
The US Air Force has ordered a total of 223 C-17s, out of which 198 have been delivered. The 199th, shown to the Indian media team at its Boeing manufacturing facility at Long Beach, is set to join its designated squadron.
Boeing plans to continue production for about five years to ensure deliveries to the US Air Force (24), the United Emirates (six), Britain (seven) and India (10).
It should take India approximately three years to get the first C-17 after the formal agreement between the two countries is signed.