As Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to arrive in Paris on Thursday (July 13) afternoon, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accorded approval for the procurement of 26 Rafale-M fighters to operate off the aircraft carriers and three additional Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines from France.
“The DAC granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for procurement of 26 Rafale Marine aircraft along with associated ancillary equipment, weapons, simulator, spares, documentation, crew training and logistic support for the Indian Navy from the French Government based on Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA),” a Defence Ministry statement said. “The price and other terms of purchase will be negotiated with the French Government after taking into account all relevant aspects, including comparative procurement price of similar aircraft by other countries.”
Further, integration of Indian designed equipment and establishment of Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) hub for various systems will be incorporated into the contract documents after due negotiations, the Ministry said.
The DAC also granted the AoN for procurement of three additional Scorpene submarines under Buy (Indian) category which will be constructed by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL). “The procurement of additional submarines, with higher indigenous content, will not only help in maintaining required force level and operational readiness of the Indian Navy, but also create significant employment opportunities in the domestic sector,” the statement said.
In addition, the DAC approved the proposal to lay down guidelines for achieving the desired indigenous content in all categories of capital acquisition cases. This the Ministry said will help in achieving ‘Aatmanirbharta’ in critical manufacturing technologies and life-cycle sustenance of defence platforms/equipment through indigenous manufacturing.
The 26 Rafale-M fighters include 22 single seater jets and four twin-seater trainers, defence officials said. However, the Rafale trainers are not carrier compatible.
In March, Navy Chief Adm R. Hari Kumar has said that both Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale M fighters meet the requirements of the Navy and a selection between them is a government’s decision, while adding adding that the Rafale M has commonality with the Indian Air Force in terms of spares and support. IAF operates 36 Rafale jets customised for Indian requirements procured under a €7.87 bn deal signed in April 2016.
An indigenous Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) is under development by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to operate off the aircraft carriers. The 26 jets to be procured will fill the gap in the interim as existing Mig-29Ks may not last till then. The Navy currently operates two aircraft carriers — INS Vikramaditya procured from Russia and the indigenously built INS Vikrant which was commissioned in September last year.
Six Scorpene submarines are being built under Project-75 by MDL under technology transfer from Naval Group under a $3.75 bn deal signed in October 2005 and is almost complete. The first submarine INS Kalvari was commissioned in December 2017, second submarine INS Khanderi in September 2019, third one INS Karanj in March 2021 and the fourth one INS Vela joined service in November 2021. The sixth and last one, Vagsheer, was launched into water in April 2022 and is expected to be delivered to the Navy by early-2024.
The Navy has drawn up plans to install Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) modules on all Scorpene submarines as they go for their refit beginning with INS Kalvari in the next couple of years to enhance their endurance. The indigenous AIP module has been tested on shore by and recently DRDO and Naval Group signed an agreement to integrate the AIP module on the Scorpene.
To the point of the three new Scorpenes would be fitted with AIP modules, officials that would depend if DRDO has it ready, proven and tested in time.
With delays in submarine induction, the SSKs – 209s (German HDWs) and EKMs (Russian Kilo’s), are being put through the Medium Refit Life Certification (MRLC) process which will give them additional life of 10 to 15 years. The Navy currently has 16 conventional submarines in service. It includes seven Russian Kilo class submarines, four German HDW submarines, five Scorpene class submarines.