The Indian government is likely to give final approval early next year to a two billion euro ($2.5 billion) deal with a French firm for the building of six Scorpene submarines, the naval chief said Nov. 30.
Admiral Arun Prakash said the deal has been cleared by the defense and finance ministries and was awaiting final approval of the security cabinet, India’s highest strategic decision-making body headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"We hope to get this cleared in 2005 because restoration of our submarine building capacity is our top priority," Prakash said, describing the Scorpene deal as a "much-delayed project."
Highly-placed Indian sources told Agence France-Presse the Scorpene deal was likely to be on the agenda of the security cabinet next February.
Other Indian sources said French state-owned shipbuilder Naval Constructions Directorate (DCN) would transfer technology to New Delhi which would then build the six 1,600-tonne submarines in India.
The vessels, although diesel-powered, could be adapted to fit a nuclear power unit, which matches India’s long-term defense strategy.
Prakash said the construction of the Scorpenes was part of the navy’s ambitious plans to induct a Soviet-era aircraft carrier, build a similar vessel here and acquire 19 other warships now under construction at various Indian shipyards.
He said the Indian navy had this year inducted three frigate-class ships -- one of them of Russian origin -- and two fast attack vessels in its fleet of warships.
Prakash also said the Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov, would be refurbished and handed over to the Indian navy on schedule by 2008.
Gorshkov, which joined the Soviet forces 18 years ago, would fill the vacuum left by the 1997 scrapping of India’s first aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which had been in service since 1961.
The delivery will coincide with the mothballing of India’s remaining aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, four years later.
The admiral said the November 7 test-firing of a nuclear-capable missile from on-board a frigate offered India’s 137-ship navy a new dimension in strategic warfare.
"The proof of the concept is now established. It can now be carried and fired from a ship and how we use it is a different issue," Prakash said of the 350-kilometre (217-mile) range missile named Dhanush (Bow).
He also said the navy was also ready to induct BrahMos, a supersonic cruise missile jointly built with Russia, in all its new and old warships.
"Our maritime interests are vast and need protection.
"We have a 7,000-kilometre (4,340-mile) coastline, 1,200 islands and an economic zone of 2.01 million square kilometers (0.77 million square miles)."
"Ninety percent of India’s trade volume and 77 percent by value is sea-borne, much of it carried by Indian merchant vessels and naturally they need protection," the naval chief said.