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The Hindu
The Hindu
Dinakar Peri

India receives price bids for 26 Rafale-M jets, 3 Scorpene submarines

India has received price bids from France for the purchase of 26 Rafale-M carrier-based fighters as well as three additional Scorpene-class conventional submarines.

While the Rafale-M is being processed through an Inter-governmental agreement, the submarine deal is a follow-on to the earlier contract with Naval Group, under which Mazagon Dockyard Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), Mumbai manufactured six submarines in India. The Defence Ministry has already set up a committee to arrive at the benchmark price for the submarine deal, sources said.

In response to India’s request, France submitted a Letter of Acceptance earlier this week, outlining the pricing and other details of its offer for 26 Rafale-M jets, which are meant to operate from the Navy’s two aircraft carriers, sources confirmed. Meanwhile, MDL has submitted its commercial offer for three more Scorpenes to the Indian Navy on December 11, it has been learnt.

Internal benchmarking

For the Scorpene deal, the Defence Ministry has formed a costing committee for internal benchmarking of the deal value. The commercial offer from MDL will be opened after the internal benchmarking is complete, sources said.

While the formal procurement process has now commenced for the Rafale deal, following receipt of the bid, it is not yet clear if a costing committee will be set up. The price and other terms of purchase will be negotiated with the French Government after taking into account all relevant aspects, including the “comparative procurement price of similar aircraft by other countries,” the Defence Ministry had earlier said.

The Indian Air Force already operates 36 Rafale jets customised for Indian requirements, which were procured in a €7.87 billion deal signed in September 2016.

On July 13, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was enroute to Paris, the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accorded its Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the procurement of the 26 Rafale-M fighters and three additional Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines from France. The Rafale deal includes 22 single-seater Rafale-M fighters and four twin-seater Rafale trainers (which are not carrier compatible).

Filling the gaps

The 26 jets are meant to fill the gap in the numbers till the indigenous Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter, still under development, is inducted into service. The Navy currently operates two aircraft carriers, the INS Vikramaditya procured from Russia and the indigenously built INS Vikrant, which was commissioned in September 2022.

As reported by The Hindu earlier, both the contracts are expected to be concluded by the end of 2024, and delivery of the submarines is likely to begin in 2031.

Indigenous features in new subs

The major difference between the existing Scorpenes and the new ones is their integrated combat system (ICS), sources explained. The earlier submarines had systems from France, while the new ones will have indigenous ICS, with significant localised solutions provided by Bharat Electronics Limited in collaboration with French suppliers, a source said. The ICS constitutes a significant part of the overall deal value.

The new Scorpenes are also likely to have their 1,250KW MAN diesel engines replaced with the Rolls Royce MTU 4000 series engines. The manufacturer has recently tied up with Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Limited, Kolkata for their final assembly in India.

A Defence Ministry statement had said that the additional submarines will have higher indigenous content and will also come fitted with an air independent propulsion (AIP) system, developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), to enhance their endurance.

Refits for existing subs

India had contracted six Scorpene-class submarines from the Naval Group under a $3.75 bn deal signed in October 2005, under which they were manufactured by MDL via technology transfer. The first submarine in the series, INS Kalvari, was commissioned in December 2017; the second, INS Khanderi, in September 2019; the third, INS Karanj, in March 2021; the fourth, INS Vela, in November 2021; and the fifth, INS Vagir, in January 2023. The sixth submarine, Vagsheer, is currently undergoing trials and is expected to be delivered to the Navy in early 2024.

The Navy has already drawn up plans to install the DRDO-developed AIP modules on all existing Scorpenes as they go for their refits, beginning with INS Kalvari, likely by the end of next year. Towards this, the Naval Group is currently supporting the DRDO in qualifying indigenous suppliers of liquid oxygen tanks and preparing for the future stage of jumboisation, which involves making the new hull, integrating the AIP safely, cutting the submarine and joining it with the new AIP section.

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