On January 19, President Bill Clinton authorized a one-time waiver of sanctions to permit New Delhi a limited number of spare parts for some of its Sea King naval helicopters. U.S. government officials stressed that the waiver only applied to specific parts already in the supply pipeline and did not constitute a blanket waiver for future transfers.
Manufactured in the United Kingdom by Westland Helicopters, India's Sea Kings were built under license from Sikorsky, a U.S. helicopter company, and incorporate U.S.-origin parts. After India conducted five nuclear tests, the United States, as mandated under the Arms Export Control Act, imposed comprehensive sanctions on India. The sanctions, which barred the sale of defense articles and services, froze work being done in the United Kingdom to service some of the Indian helicopters.
Indian government officials and press have claimed that roughly 60 percent of the Sea King fleet is grounded and that the operations of flyable aircraft are severely limited. India has purchased a total of 42 Sea Kings, which perform anti-submarine and search and rescue operations. Clinton's waiver covers some 200 individual components, according to a Westland Helicopters spokesman, who noted the action will enable only a "handful" of India's helicopters to resume activity.
New Delhi had lobbied the United States to lift the sanctions. By some accounts, India enlisted British support by suggesting that it would be more likely to conclude negotiations for the purchase of as many as 66 British Hawk trainer aircraft if London would talk to Washington on its behalf. Recent news reports suggest India may close the Hawk deal by April. None of the three governments would comment.A State Department official, however, confirmed that an incident in which a U.S. sailor was emergency air lifted by an Indian Sea King helicopter to a hospital to receive urgent medical attention factored in the Clinton decision. The official emphasized that the Sea King's capability to perform search and rescue missions in general was an important consideration.