NEW DELHI, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- India plans to buy another 59 Mi-17 military helicopters worth $1.9 billion from Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, the head of India's air force said.
The purchase is in addition to the 80 Mi-17s ordered in 2008. The first Mi-17 aircraft will be delivered this year, Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik said in an extensive interview with India Strategic, an Internet defense news Web site.
The twin-turbine transport helicopter, made by the Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant and the Kazan Helicopter Plant, and also can act as a gun ship for offensive operations. It was designed specifically for the old Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan.
More than 12,000 Mi-17s -- NATO code-name Hip -- have been built since it first flew in the 1970s. Around 60 countries operate the aircraft and the Thai army ordered six new Mi-17s last October, the first time it opted not to buy helicopters from the United States.
India's order for more Mi-17 helicopters is part of a continued defense procurement relationship with Russia and the previous Soviet Union, Naik said. At one time more than 70 percent of equipment with the Indian army, navy and air force were sourced from the Soviet Union.
Naik said that the prices of Soviet equipment were much lower. India, as well as Egypt, Syria and Iraq, benefited from the Soviet Union's lower "friendship pricing" policy.
Other recent Indo-Russian deals include the air force's request for 42 Su-30MKI fighters, which has been cleared by the defense ministry, "taking the total number of these air superiority combat jets order to a sizable 272."
The Indian air force also recently signed a contract with Rosoboronexport to upgrade its fleet of Soviet-vintage MiG-29 fighters and Il-76 airlifters -- bought in 1985 -- while the Indian navy has ordered 45 MiG-29K carrier-borne fighter jets.
Naik also said the Il-76s are undergoing a life-extension program with Russia.
"The life extension of Il-76 aircraft will involve a complete overhaul of the airframe at the manufacturer's premises in Russia," he said. "The first aircraft has already been sent and servicing work has commenced. Various other upgrades will be carried out in India. Post-servicing, the aircraft would be available to us for more than 10 years."
Hindustan Aeronautics also announced it has contracted Italian firm Avio to improve their Dhruv advanced light helicopter's power transfer from the twin Shakti engines to the rotors.
The helicopter, which first flew in 1992, has been operating with less power than anticipated, which limits the speed to 155 mph and not the specified 165 mph or more.
The Indian army and the air force are planning to induct Dhruv mk3 helicopters into service by the end of the year as part of a contract awarded to Hindustan Aeronautics last year for 159 Dhruv aircraft.
The last Dhruv is to be delivered by 2015.