New Delhi: The government has cleared an $8 billion or Rs. 50,000 crore plan to build India’s most advanced warships, defence sources said, just months after ordering new submarines to close the gap with the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean.
Since taking over last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signalled his resolve to build a strong military after years of neglect.
India’s navy has been rattled in recent months after Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast, underlining the growing reach of the Chinese navy after years of staying closer to its shores.
PM Modi summoned a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security on Monday to approve construction of seven frigates equipped with stealth features to avoid easy detection, a Defence Ministry source said.
The frigates, in a programme called Project-17A, will be built at government shipyards in Mumbai and Kolkata, in a boost for the PM’s ‘Make in India’ campaign to build a domestic defence industrial base and reduce dependence on expensive imports, that have made India the world’s biggest arms market.
“Project 17-A was awaiting Cabinet clearance since 2012,” the source said, adding the BJP government is moving quickly on a project seen as of critical national importance.
The source said the government expects to sign a contract with the shipyards within the month. Another source in the Navy confirmed the Cabinet clearance but said it would take a decade or even longer for all the ships to be built, even if the shipyards were to start construction immediately.
The Indian Navy’s undersea defences are down to 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines, after a string of accidents, including one in Mumbai in 2013 in which 18 sailors were killed.
In October, the government approved fast-tracking the tender process to build six submarines in collaboration with a foreign builder.
“This government is showing signs of urgency, but there is a lot of ground to be covered,” said former Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh. “All our programmes are running way behind schedule and with a huge amount of cost over-runs.”