As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Paris later this week as Chief Guest at the Bastille Day parade, deals for Rafale-M fighters and three more Scorpene-class submarines for the Navy and a co-development of fighter jet engine are on the agenda. Ahead of this, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) is expected to hold a crucial meet in the next couple of days where it is likely to take a call on the procurement of 26 Rafale-M fighters for the Navy’s aircraft carriers and the proposal for additional Scorpene submarines that is in the pipeline. Prior to this, the Rafale-M proposal has been cleared by the Defence Procurement Board (DPB) for the Navy’s carrier jet race in which Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet has also competed.
The DPB decision clears the process for the case to be put for a decision by the DAC, the highest decision-making body in the Defence Ministry. There is still a long process which includes price negotiations and in the final step goes to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval before the deal can be signed.
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 will be the government’s decision, while adding that the Rafale-M has commonality with the Air Force in terms of spares and support. The Air Force operates 36 Rafale jets customised for Indian requirements under a €7.87 billion deal signed in April 2016.
An indigenous Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF) is under development by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) under DRDO to operate off the Navy’s aircraft carriers. The 26 jets planned to procured from abroad 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.
In 2017, the Navy had floated Request For Information (RFI) to procure 57 twin engine carrier fighter which is now set to downsized to 26 with the TEDBF under development. Both the Rafale-M and F/A-18 had demonstrated their compatibility to operate from Indian carriers by operating from the Navy’s Shore Based Test Facility in Goa.
In another deal, Safran of France is in the race to co-develop a fighter engine for India’s fifth generation fighter and is competing with General Electric of the U.S. and Rolls Royce of the U.K.
Additional Scorpene submarines
Six Scorpene class 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. Five of them have been commissioned and the sixth one is expected to be commissioned early next year.
The ageing submarine fleet and delay in the procurement of new submarines under P-75I meant the Navy has to procure three follow-on submarines to arrest the depleting fleet.
The Navy has 16 conventional submarines in service, seven Kilo-class, four HDW submarines and five French Scorpene class submarines. Of these, the Kilo and HDW are ageing and the Navy has been forced to extend their life as an interim measure, as procurement of new submarines planned under Project-75I has been relatedly delayed.