India on Thursday approved proposals for purchasing 26 Naval variant of Rafale jets from France and procuring three French-designed Scorpene class submarines, a day ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's wide-ranging talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
The two big-ticket procurement projects, expected to cost in the range of Rs 80,000 to Rs 85,000 crore, was approved by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and the platforms are set to significantly boost the Indian Navy's overall military prowess.
The defence ministry said the procurement of the Rafale jets along with associated ancillary equipment including weapon systems and spares would be based on an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) and that price and other terms of purchase will be negotiated with the French government after taking into account all relevant aspects.
India and France are expected to make an announcement on the two mega procurement projects after wide-ranging talks between Modi and Macron on Friday with both sides looking at further expanding their already close strategic and defence ties.
The DAC, the defence ministry's apex body for military procurement, approved the purchase on a day Modi began his two-day visit to Paris primarily to grace the annual Bastille Day parade as the guest of honour. Indian and French officials are also in talks for French defence major Safran joining hands with an Indian defence manufacturer to develop a fighter jet engine in India to power the country's next generation aircraft including the futuristic Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
"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)," the defence ministry said.
It said 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 & Operations (MRO) hub for various systems will be incorporated into the contract documents after due negotiations," it said in a statement.
Four of the 26 Rafale-M jets, the naval variant of the deck-based platform will be trainer aircraft, sources in the defence establishment said.
The delivery of the aircraft, to be manufactured by French aerospace giant Dassault Aviation, will begin within three years of signing of the contract, they said, adding it may take close to one year to seal the final deal as detailed price negotiations are to be undertaken.
The procurement of the three Scorpene-class submarines will be a follow-on order.
Under Indian Navy's Project 75, six Scorpene submarines have already been constructed in India by Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in cooperation with the Naval Group of France.
"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 ministry said.
It said 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.
"It will also help the MDL in further enhancing its capability and expertise in submarine construction," it added.
India is procuring the Rafale jets and the submarines to bolster its overall naval prowess amid China's increasing forays into the Indian Ocean.
Five out of six Scorpene submarines are already in service and the sixth one is set to be commissioned in early next year.
At present, the Navy has 16 conventional submarines, out of which five are new. The Navy plans to gradually decommission the older ones.
The DAC approved another proposal to lay down guidelines for achieving the "desired indigenous content in all categories of capital acquisition cases", the ministry said.
"It will help in achieving 'Aatmanirbharta' in critical manufacturing technologies and life-cycle sustenance of defence platforms/equipment through indigenous manufacturing," it added.
The Indian Navy has been looking for procurement of 26 deck-based fighter jets for indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
After a lengthy process, the Navy had narrowed down on Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation's Rafale M aircraft for the procurement.
Later, Rafale-M emerged as the winner in the tight race. India has already procured 36 Rafale jets from France for the Indian Air Force, the first major acquisition of fighter planes in 23 years after the Sukhoi jets were imported from Russia.