(This was originally posted in LiveMint by Elizabeth Roche)
India may discuss the leasing of minesweeper vessels from South Korea, a longstanding demand of the Indian Navy, during talks between defence minister Rajnath Singh and his visiting South Korean counterpart Suh Wook on Friday. Suh, a former South Korean Army general who became the defence minister last September, arrived in New Delhi later on Thursday.
During the visit, Singh and Suh will “discuss India–RoK (republic of Korea) defence cooperation along with other regional and international issues of mutual interest,” according to a statement from India’s defence ministry.
According to a person familiar with the development, the subject of leasing minesweepers from South Korea could come up in discussions with Suh. South Korea, Russia and the US are seen as the three countries having minesweepers that are key to keeping sea lanes and harbours safe from floating or underwater mines.
The talks could also cover a follow-on order for the 155mm, 52 calibre K9 Vajra howitzer built by India’s Larsen & Toubro with technology transfer from South Korea’s Hanwha Defense, the person cited above said. The K9 Vajra is based on South Korea’s K9 Thunder. L&T has completed an order of 100 howitzers from the Indian Army last month under a contract awarded in 2017.
The Indian Navy has been on the lookout for mine-counter measure vessels or MCMVs since 2005. It was earlier in talks with South Korea’s Kangnam Corporation to build 12 vessels at Goa Shipyard Ltd. But the talks failed in 2018 with India cancelling the estimated $5 billion deal that also involved transfer of technology.
“High costs involved and some compliance issues,” were seen as the deal breakers, the person cited above said.
Given the resource crunch facing the Indian armed forces, the option of leasing incorporated in the Defence Acquisition Plan 2020 has come in handy for the forces.
The Indian Navy has already leased high-altitude drones to keep watch over the Indian Ocean region— that New Delhi considers its sphere of influence— where China has recently been increasing its profile.
The talks between Singh and Suh could also include the Indo-Pacific, the concept of the Quad and its first leaders’ meet on 12 March besides military-to-military cooperation.