In a major defence deal, India on Monday decided to acquire six highly advanced French Scorpene submarines worth $3 billion (about Rs 13,000 crore), days after placing an order for 43 Airbus aircraft at a cost of about $2.4 billion (nearly Rs 9,800 crore) from a European consortium that includes France.
French President Jacques Chirac disclosed India's decision to buy the Scorpene submarines while welcoming Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the Elysee Palace, where the two leaders had wide-ranging discussions on Indo-French defence cooperation, India's bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and trade and economic cooperation.
72-year-old Chirac, who is just out of hospital after an eye ailment, said, "I am happy that the Dr Singh is confirming today the decision (by India) to buy six Scorpene submarines and 43 Airbus aircraft."
The French President, who took the rare step of speaking to reporters before his meeting with Dr Singh, said India's decisions were a 'measure of friendship, trust and cooperation' between the two countries.
Chirac said, for France, India was 'a major partner' of the world today. "And this is the reason why France has always supported India's positions, in particular her legitimate aspiration for a seat at the UN Security Council as a permanent member," he said.
In an interview to leading French daily, Le Figaro, Dr Singh dispelled apprehensions that India's 'privileged relations' with the United States would 'prejudice' Indo-French co-operation in the field of defence
Scorpene, billed as the world's most silent underwater killer machine, would be manufactured under technology transfer by the state-owned Mazgoan Docks in Mumbai and delivered between 2010 and 2015. As part of the deal, the submarines will be armed with EADS SM39 Exocet sub-harpoon anti-ship missiles. The other powerful weapons payload on the subs include Black Shark and other advanced torpedoes.
With the capabilities to strike targets underwater, surface and on land, Scorpene have a radical new design with reduced sound emissions which enables the submarines to strike at long distances without detection. The submarines have an operational cycle of 240 days a year and endurance to carry 50 days patrol to ensure maximum utilisation.
They also offer advanced capabilities for mine warfare, intelligence gathering and special operations. Their acquisition would enable India to reopen its submarine building assembly lines.
The submarine building facilities at Mumbai's Mazgaon docks have been idle for the past four years after completion of the manufacture under technology transfer of four SSK class German HDW submarines.
Before his meeting with Chirac, Dr Singh met the top CEOs of major French companies over breakfast. Among the participants were business leaders of companies like Dassault Aviation, Thales SA and other companies which are major suppliers of weapons systems in India.
Dassault, the makers of Mirage 2000 fighters are in contention for the multi-billion dollar deal for India's contract to buy 125 Medium Combat Range Aircraft.