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India Approves Defense Deals - 2003-09-03

India has approved several defense deals that include buying trainer jets from Britain and equipment that will help the army to fight terrorism more effectively.

Defense Secretary Ajay Prasad says the deals approved by India's top security cabinet will modernize its armed forces.

Mr. Prasad says the biggest deal involves the purchase of British Aerospace Hawk Advance Trainer Jets from Britain at a cost of approximately $1.7 billion.

"We will be buying 66 advanced jet trainers, out of which 24 will be acquired in a flyaway condition, and the rest manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited within the country under license from British Aerospace," he said.

New Delhi has been looking for an advanced jet trainer for nearly two decades. The Hawk was always the front-runner, but the deal remained stalled for years over price negotiations.

India has the world's fourth largest air force, and urgently needs trainer jets to end a string of accidents.

Indian pilots currently learn on basic jets, then move straight to Russian MIG-21 fighters. More than 100 MIG-21 jets have crashed in the past six years, some of the accidents have been blamed on pilot error, others on technical faults.

Until the new jets are available, Indian pilots will train in Britain.

The Indian army also will create what Defense Secretary Prasad called "lethal" infantry battalions to counter terrorism. New Delhi will purchase equipment such as night-fighting and surveillance equipment worth millions of dollars for these special forces. The units will be created within two years.

Indian troops in Kashmir have been countering terrorist attacks by Islamic militants since 1989, when a Muslim separatist insurgency erupted in the region. Hundreds of soldiers have been killed in nighttime attacks and landmine blasts.