New Delhi: India will soon hold talks with the United States and Germany to enhance defence cooperation, especially for collaboration in building defence equipment in India with US and German technology. From the Indian side, the defence minister, Rajnath Singh, will head the talks while his American and German counterparts, Lloyd Austin and Boris Pistorius respectively, will represent their countries.
Austin, the US defence secretary, and Singh will hold bilateral talks on June 5. Singh will hold talks with the German defence minister, Pistorius, on June 6.
The talks between Singh and Pistorious will be keenly followed because the two defence ministers are expected to discuss the ₹50,000 crore deal for construction of six conventional submarines.
It may be noted that currently, the Indian Navy is in an unenviable position as far as its submarine fleet is concerned. At this moment, it is operating with 16 conventional submarines, 11 of which are over 20 years old. The other five are the Kalvari-class (Scorpene-class) submarines made with French collaboration in India under Project-75. The sixth and final submarine under the project, Vagsheer, has also rolled out and is currently undergoing sea trials.
The rest includes seven Russian Kilo-class submarines and four German-origin HDW submarines, all of which are over two decades old.
It may be recalled that the request for proposal for partnership in building the six submarines under Project-75(I) was issued in 2020. The Rajnath Singh-headed Defence Acquisition Council had picked Mazgaon Docks Ltd. (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) as the Indian partners for the submarine project, in January that year.
Initially, five foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) –Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering from South Korea, Naval Group from France, Navantia from Spain, Rosoboronexport from Russia, and Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems from Germany – responded with the proposals. However, France’s Naval Group pulled itself out from the race as it didn’t meet the criteria laid down by India.
Gradually, others, except South Korea’s Daewoo and Germany’s Thyssenkrupp too pulled out because they didn’t meet the technical criteria. Even the South Korean and the German companies, which met the technical criteria, didn’t show much enthusiasm because of the stringent conditions laid down in the deal.
This was a major reason why the project failed to take off until now.
During the talks, Pistorius is expected to convince Singh to water down some of the conditions so that it will enable the German company to partner India in building the submarines, if they win the contract.
While in India, Pistorius will also meet a few defence start-ups during an event organised by Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) in New Delhi. On June 7, he will visit the headquarters of the Western Naval Command and the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited in Mumbai.
Austin in India
The US defence secretary Llyod Austin is visiting India for the second time this year, the first one being March 2021. During his visit, the two countries will seek to enhance their strategic collaboration under the framework of the “US-India Major Defence Partnership”.
In a statement, the Pentagon had emphasized that the visit will present an opportunity to expedite defence innovation and promote industrial co-operation, further strengthening the operational collaboration between the US and Indian militaries.
Besides, the two leaders are expected to discuss China’s assertive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific region, along the line of actual control and ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.
His visit assumes significance as the prime minister, Narendra Modi, is scheduled to pay a visit to the US on June 22