In its quest to replace ageing minesweeping ships with it, the Navy has embarked on a two-pronged strategy — building a new fleet and considering the purchase of two decommissioned vessels from the United States.

The Navy is negotiating with Korean shipyard Kangnam Corporation Busan Shipyards for building two Mine Counter-Measures Vessels (MCMV) at the shipyard and the rest at home through technology transfer, sources in the Defence Ministry said.

The Navy now operates a dozen Pondicherry/Karwar class vessels — six each with the Western and the Eastern Fleet. These were built between 1970s and 1980s.

Price yet to be fixed

A Cost Negotiation Committee is yet to fix a final price tag with the shipyard under the project that was cleared some six years ago, the sources said. It was then estimated to cost up to Rs. 4,500 crore, but the actual cost could be much less.

The Navy is also considering acquiring from the U.S. two Osprey Class minesweepers.

These vessels were decommissioned in 2007 and subsequently, the U.S. Congress cleared their sale to foreign countries.Plans to look to the U.S. for arms continue as highlighted by The Hindu based on WikiLeaks cables on how Washington views sale of military hardware to India as a key part of its strategic partnership with New Delhi.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India had made observations on landing platform dock INS Jalashwa (USS Trenton), procured by the Navy. In 2009, it commented on the acquisition of 6 UH-3H helicopters for use on the ship.

Purchase defended

Recently, Defence Minister A.K. Antony defended the purchase of these decommissioned helicopters at a price of Rs. 182 crore, stating that it was essential to procure them along with Jalashwa so as to avoid additional transportation costs and that these would meet the requirement of the vertical lift component of the ship.

With the induction of helicopters, the ability to perform various roles like transportation of combat troops, vertical replenishment, and other roles to enhance the operational requirement of the ship was enhanced, Mr. Antony said, adding that procurement of new helicopters would have taken at least five years more and at higher costs.

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