Submarine purchase from France runs into rough weather

Paris Dec. 7. An approximately 1.8-billion Euro contract for the purchase of six Scorpene submarines from France that was to have been finalised in October has run into heavy weather, informed sources said here.

Last June, India had announced that it would order three diesel-electric (SSK) Scorpene submarines from France and take an option on a further three. Protracted negotiations under way with DCN, builders of the French sub and its partners in the Scorpene programme, Izar and Thales, could have run into some last-minute glitches, according to defence industry sources in Paris.

A framework agreement covering the deal was signed during a meeting of the India-France High Committee on defence production, chaired by the Defence Secretary, Yogendra Narain, and the Special Representative of the French Defence Minister, Bernard Ouvrieux, last June.

The French would like to have the deal wrapped up in time for a formal announcement during the visit to India by the French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, next February. Mr. Raffarin will be accompanied by five senior Ministers, including the Defence Minister, Michelle Alliot Marie, and the Finance Minister, Francis Mer.

When finalised, the contract will be the biggest ever order for the Indian Navy's shipyards at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai. Each submarine is expected to cost $ 300 million. The defence electronics group, Thales, prime contractor for the operation, has already signed an agreement with Mazagon Docks for a transfer of technology so that the submarines can be built in India.

Under the agreement, the submarines will be built at the Mazagon Dockyards and India's Department for Defence Production and Supplies is chalking out the transfer of technology agreement.

India will need to replace its submarines in six years. The Scorpene's design, which allows for the installation of a small nuclear reactor, has been a persuasive factor in its favour since India would like to add a naval arm to its nuclear deterrence.

The Indian Navy leased a nuclear submarine from Russia in the 1990s to train personnel in the operation of nuclear subs.

Ironically, the French have scored a coup, selling submarines to both India and Pakistan. Any attempts to describe this as encouraging the Indo-Pakistan arms race is brushed aside by French officials.

India and the French-led consortium began negotiations for the Scorpene package some two years ago with New Delhi insisting on technology transfer to build the six submarines in India. New Delhi was reportedly unhappy with the French for the sale of one Agosta 90B submarine, PNS Khalid, to Pakistan and the transfer of technology for two more such vessels with AIP systems.

Pakistan's submarine programme received a severe setback last year when eleven French naval engineers working on the assemblage of the Agosta 90B submarines were killed in a terrorist attack.

Since then, the programme has come to a halt as engineers and other personnel have refused to serve in Karachi.

In defence circles, there is a lively debate as to which of the two subs — the Agosta 90B or the newer Scorpene — is the deadlier weapon.

The Scorpene (SSK) can be fitted with a small nuclear reactor but is a non-nuclear version of the French nuclear SSBN. It is considered an eavesdropping sub par excellence. Its electronic sensors include a passive long-range cylindrical sonar, interception sonar, active sonar, distributed sonar, flank antennae, and high- resolution sonar for detecting mines and obstacles. It is not known whether India has been able to obtain Blackshark missiles as part of the package.

Equally, the Scorpene has been designed with an anaerobic propulsion system with a steam turbine that uses ethanol with liquid oxygen as its fuel in a specific chamber. The system represents a technological innovation because of its easy and safe installation and handling since it feeds from a conventional steam installation. The Agosta, on the other hand, comes armed with the SM-39 Exocet submarine-launched anti-ship missiles (AshM) with a range of 50 km.

Launched from beneath the surface, an AShM gives a submarine valuable manoeuvring time after firing the missile and is inherently more dangerous than a torpedo.

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