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    India eyes deal with U.S. to replace aging Russian warplanes

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    India has begun talks with the United States on the purchase of P-8i long-range maritime reconnaissance patrol aircraft to replace Russian-made Tu-142M bombers, the Times of India said on Tuesday.

    NEW DELHI, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - India has begun talks with the United States on the purchase of P-8i long-range maritime reconnaissance patrol aircraft to replace Russian-made Tu-142M bombers, the Times of India said on Tuesday.

    The newspaper said that the P-8i jet with antisubmarine warfare capabilities, based on the Boeing-737 commercial aircraft, had been deemed the best choice to meet the Indian Navy's requirements, ahead of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company's A-319 maritime patrol aircraft and other contenders.

    "The contract will be signed soon. The first P-8i will be delivered within 48 months, i.e. in mid-2012, and all eight by mid-2015. They will replace the Navy's eight aging Tupolev-142Ms," the newspaper said, citing a source in the country's Defense Ministry.

    Russia is India's largest military partner, concluding contracts worth some $1.5 billion annually. Israel signs military contracts with New Delhi totaling $1 billion each year.

    If India signs the deal with Washington on the purchase of P-8i aircraft, estimated at about $2 billion, it will be the biggest-ever defense contract between the countries. The highest in recent years was a 2002 deal worth $190 million to supply 12 AN/TPQ-37 firefinder weapon-locating radars.

    Two weeks ago an Indian defense industry source speculated that U.S. defense industry giant Lockheed Martin could be pushing for closer ties with India's military to increase its chances in winning a $10-billion tender on the delivery of 126 fighters for the Indian Air Force.

    Principal bidders include Lockheed Martin's F-16, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Russian Mig-35, the French Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Gripen, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

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