The Indian Navy will add more teeth to its already formidable arsenal in the coming years with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to sign a deal for acquisition of 26 Rafale Marine fighters for the INS Vikrant aircraft carrier and a repeat order for building three more Scorpene (Kalveri) class submarines at Mazagon Dockyards Limited (MDL) through the “Make in India” route during his two-day visit to France this week, people familiar with the matter said.
While South Block is tight-lipped about the defence deals to be signed during PM Modi’s visit to Paris on July 13-14, it is understood that India and France will sign a defence-industrial road map to push India to scale up its manufacturing of hardware platforms through indigenously developed engines and technologies. PM Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron will also unveil a bilateral road map for the Indo-Pacific with specific steps to ensure freedom of navigation and maritime security for sea lanes in the area contested by a rising China.
According to inputs from South Block, a meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has been convened by defence minister Rajnath Singh on July 13 for granting acceptance of necessity (AON) to the Indian Navy to acquire 26 Rafale-M fighters as well as give the green signal to the building of three more Kalveri class submarines at the MDL. The last of the six Kalveri class submarines, INS Vagsheer, is expected to be commissioned next year with the vessel currently undergoing tests and trials.
The three additional Kalvari class submarines will be fitted with air-independent propulsion (AIP), which has been designed by the DRDO but will be tested and validated by the French Naval Group. The AIP gives longer endurance to a normal diesel attack submarine and allows it to remain submerged for over a week without the need to surface to charge its batteries.
While the DAC will approve AON for the acquisition of 26 Rafale-M aircraft for INS Vikrant, the price, terms and conditions will be negotiated after this through the government-to-government route with the French government getting the best price from Dassault Aviation. All the 26 fighters will be single-seater versions with Indian Navy pilots being trained in France as well as on advanced simulators in Goa. All the French Navy pilots flying Rafale-M on aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle have been trained on simulators as a twin-seater means a reduction in the armament carrying capacity of the fighter. It is understood that one squadron (18 fighters) will be onboard INS Vikrant and the remaining eight will be based in Goa as reserves for rotation.
The repeat order for three Scorpene class submarines through the government-to-government route will not only add muscle to the Indian Navy to take up the challenge of PLA expansion in the Indian Ocean but also give a new lease of life to the submarine manufacturing capacity of MDL after INS Vaghsheer is commissioned in 2024.