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India Ups Military Spending

India's Cabinet on Tuesday approved a $746 million military spending proposal, days after an announcement that rival Pakistan will purchase sophisticated U.S. fighter jets.

The defense ministry received the go-ahead to enter negotiations for 12 used French-made Mirage 2005 aircraft from Qatar, Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

"The price negotiations for these 12 planes will take place soon," said Mukherjee.

Plans also include the purchase of nine offshore patrol vessels for the Indian Navy and upgrades for Sea Harrier planes.

The Cabinet approved a proposal to buy submarine-fired torpedo decoy systems from Italian company Wass, which also includes technical transfers to India, Mukherjee said. India will also purchase 11 German-built Dornier 228 airplanes, along with spare engines and ground support systems.

The Indian navy and coast guard are already using Dorniers, and the new aircraft will be used for surveillance.

The United States last week announced the sale of F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan and signaled that India also could have them. Both the South Asian neighbors are currently engaged in peace talks aimed at ending five decades of hostility, that has included three wars.

India criticized the F-16 sale to Pakistan, saying it will alter the military balance and negatively affect peace discussions.

Islamabad rejected the criticism from New Delhi on Tuesday.

"I am surprised by the Indian reaction," Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri told reporters in the southern city of Karachi. "This is not at all in discord with the emerging thaw in relations with India."

In New Delhi, the Cabinet approved the upgrade of 14 vertical take-off and landing Sea Harrier fighter jets. The renovations will include new radar and Israeli-built air-to-air missiles.

Indian government-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will handle the upgrades. The company will also install Intermediate Jet Trainers with new Russian-made AL-551 engines over the next nine years, Mukherjee said.

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