New Delhi (UPI) Sep 13, 2005
India's decision to buy Scorpene submarines from France at for $3 billion is a step that could ultimately lead to the supply of a French reactor and fuel to New Delhi's civilian nuclear energy requirements, Indian strategic and nuclear analysts said Tuesday.
"The announcement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that India would acquire six Scorpene submarines from France is a move that could help India getting nuclear energy for its civilian purposes, " said A.B. Mahapatra an expert in nuclear affairs.
He said the Indian government's decision to acquire the Scorpenes would further strengthen Indo-French strategic cooperation. He said France's commitment to fully cooperate with India in its civilian nuclear program had given a further boost to India's image as a responsible nuclear state.
Singh, who stopped off at Paris on his way to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly session, met with French President Jacques Chirac and announced India would acquire the submarines; France then pledged its full support for India's civilian nuclear program.
"France, like the U.S. and Britain, will work with other members of the 44-nation Nuclear Supply Group to dismantle the long-standing restrictions on the supply of technology and equipment for India's civilian nuclear program," Chirac said at the end of talks with Singh.
The United States and its allies imposed sanctions on India after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998.
India and France also agreed to have a framework agreement on defense cooperation, it was announced after the Monday's talks.
"In order to further strengthen the defense relationship, the two countries will hold discussions with a view to finalizing a framework agreement on defense cooperation at an early date," said a joint statement issued after the meeting.
The statement said the joint exercise carried out by the armed forces of the two countries testified to the high degree of confidence built over the years. The joint Indo-French military exercise were held in January-February this year.
"India and France already have high-level defense cooperation, which will be further boosted by the deal on Scorpene submarine," said a senior Indian navy official.
India's navy has asked the government to acquire high-quality submarines, as 16 of its present subs are to be retired in a phased manner in four years from 2008 to 2012. The Indian navy preferred the Scorpene for its endurance capacity, which is 240 hours and nose velocity, which is less than Russian submarines that India now uses. Besides, Scorpene has a better air-independent propulsion system and can remain submerged for longer periods. It also has a state-of-the-art communications system.
India's Cabinet Committee on Security, the highest-level Cabinet committee to look into the country's defense requirements, cleared the Scorpene deal ahead of Singh's visit to France.
"We have waited for this project, which involves construction of six diesel-electric Scorpene submarines at Mazgaon Dock in western Bombay," said a senior defense official.
He said the project would kick off the navy's long-term perspective program to acquire local capability in design, development and construction of submarines.
Along with six Scorpene submarines, Paris will also transfer its technology to India for domestic production. The Indian navy planned to manufacture 24 submarines in a phased manner. The project will also help India build nuclear-powered submarines.
"The Scorpene project will also help us maintain force levels," said a navy officer.
He said the six Scorpenes would roll out between 2009 and 2015, with an option for six more.
France has the highest number of nuclear reactors after the United States. Paris is also a prominent member of NSG, which control nuclear technology exports.
After signing a civilian nuclear energy agreement with the United States in July, India has been lobbying hard to convince NSG members to provide it with nuclear energy for its civilian program.
"Buying submarines from France is also part of Indian strategy to make inroads in NSG countries," said another analyst.
Indian Foreign Secretary Shayam Saran, who accompanied Singh, said Paris would work with the NSG to try and get the rest of the equipment and technology sanctions lifted.
India and France will also work out a nuclear cooperation deal similar to the one New Delhi signed with Washington. For India, French support is crucial not only because Paris' clout at the NSG, but also because of India's nuclear fuel requirements.
The United States had barred the supply of atomic technology to India after New Delhi refused to sign nuclear non-proliferation treaty designed to prevent spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests.
Washington promised to change its policy after New Delhi assured it that it would adhere to international the non-proliferation regime without actually signing on to the pact. Washington's assurances still need congressional approval, however.
India's arch-rival Pakistan has also called on the United States and other Western countries to help develop its nuclear technology to meet growing energy needs. Islamabad hinted it was ready to accept the U.S. request to abandon a gas pipeline from Iran to India via its territory in exchange for U.S. financial assistance for Pakistani nuclear reactors.
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