In what could turn into yet another mega defence deal with Russia , bilateral negotiations have gained momentum for India's acquisition of four more stealth frigates for around $4 billion. Even as the high-level India-Russia Military Technical Cooperation Working Group (MTC-WG) kicked off its two-day meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday, defence ministry sources said Moscow has submitted "a techno-commercial proposal" for the four multi-purpose frigates packed with sensors and weapons, including the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.
"Under the proposal, two of the frigates will come from Russia, while the other two will be constructed in India. The MoD has asked for some clarifications before taking a decision on the price and inter-governmental agreement," said a source. The MTC-WG also discussed other pending mega defence projects like the joint development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft and Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters as well as the Rs 39,000 crore purchase of five S-400 Triumf advanced air defence missile systems, as was reported by TOI on Wednesday. Russia has apparently dovetailed the frigate project - which was first offered by Russian President Vladimir Putin to PM Narendra Modi over a year ago - with India's aim to lease a second nuclear-powered submarine for around $1.5 billion.
The first nuclear-powered Akula-II submarine INS Chakra - being operated by India since April 2012 after paying $900 million - had also been linked to the bigger $2.33 billion deal for aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. If the deal for the four new 4,000-tonne frigates is indeed inked, they will add to the six Russian stealth frigates already inducted by India. First, three Talwar-class frigates were inducted from Russia in 2003-2004.
They were then followed in 2011-2013 by three Teg-class frigates under a $1.15 billion contract inked in 2006. India is quite satisfied with the Teg-class frigates, which have an operating range of 4,500 nautical miles and can handle threats in all three dimensions - air, surface and underwater. But a major problem with the new upgraded Teg or Grigorivich-class frigates on offer is that the warships - lying half-constructed at the Yantar Shipyard in Russia due to a cash-crunch - will need Zorya gas-turbine engines from Ukraine.
"Ukraine has refused to supply power plants to Russia because of their continuing bilateral problems. But India can directly acquire the engines from Ukraine," said a source. India, of course, has begun to construct its own stealth warships, having inducted three 6,100-tonne Shivalik-class frigates. Another Rs 50,000 crore contract for construction of the seven 'Project-17A' stealth frigates - four at Mazagon Docks at Mumbai and three in GRSE at Kolkata - was inked in February 2015.
The Navy currently has around 130 warships as well as 235 aircraft and helicopters. Moreover, the seven P-17A frigates are among the 39 warships and six Scorpene submarines under construction in Indian shipyards for over Rs 3 lakh crore. But India is now eyeing the Russian frigates since it plans a 212-warship Navy by 2027 to ensure effective safeguarding of its huge geostrategic interests from Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait and beyond.