India is slated to purchase up to 48 Mil Mi-17 V5 helicopters from Russia in a purchase worth $1.1 billion. The Indian Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), the body charged with approving Indian defense purchases and chaired by the defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, approved the order on Wednesday. The helicopters will enter service with the Indian Air Force. The DAC’s decision is not unexpected: Alexander Mikheyev, the general director of Russian Helicopters, had told Russia’s Interfax news agency that New Delhi would place an order for additional units.
According to Russian state media, India already operates 139 Mi-17s worth more than $2 million. In comments to Russia’s TASS news agency, a spokesperson from the Indian Air Force noted that “The advanced Russian-made helicopters will be used in difficult-terrain areas ranging from deserts to mountains along the Pakistani and Chinese borders.” “Mi-17V-5S helicopters make up the backbone of the transport helicopter fleet of the IAF,” it added. India currently uses its Mi-17s for border surveillance, transport, and logistics.
India first ordered a batch of 80 Mi-17 V5s in 2008, eventually taking delivery of the helicopters between 2011 and 2013. Russia and India agreed to expand the initial order for an additional 71 units, which are slated for delivery before the end of the year. The latest deal demonstrates that defense cooperation between Russia and India continues at a steady pace despite reports in recent years that New Delhi is beginning to favor the United States for its defense import needs. Additionally, Russia’s recent decision to sell Pakistan its advanced Mi-35 Hind suggested that Moscow’s approach to selling arms in South Asia was changing, possibly leading to an overall deterioration in the long-standing defense commercial relationship between Moscow and New Delhi.
The Mi-17’s original design is optimized for transport operations, but offensive-capable variants exist, including a gunship variant. The Mi-17, an export version of the Mi-8, is operated by scores of countries, including by India’s neighbor and rival Pakistan. The V5 variant of the Mi-17 is one of the newest and can carry cargo on an external sling weighing up to 4 tons. Due to its versatility and ease of maintenance, the Mi-17 is one of the most popular Russian helicopters for export.