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India Taps France and Other Countries in Drive to Modernize its Military

An order for six French submarines announced early this week is just the latest step in India's drive to modernize its armed forces. The submarines are part of India's plan to flex its military muscles more forcefully.

Indian officials say the six French Scorpene submarines will be assembled at a naval dockyard in Bombay. The submarines will replace aging vessels in India's fleet of 14 French and Russian-built subs.

The nearly 2 billion dollar submarine deal was confirmed earlier this week during a visit to Paris by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Rahul Bedi, a correspondent at Jane's Defense Weekly, says over the next few years, India plans to increase its submarine strength substantially.

"It wants to bolster its submarine fleet to between 20 and 30. It is a fairly formidable navy. It has a long reach, it is growing longer sea legs," said Bedi.

The submarine deal is the latest in a series of big-ticket defense purchases by India, which is modernizing its military equipment, most of which was bought from the former Soviet Union.

A report prepared for the United States Congress says that last year, India emerged as the largest buyer among developing nations of conventional arms. The report says India agreed to deals worth 5.7 billion dollars.

Uday Bhaskar, the head of the government-funded Indian Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis, says the recent purchases will help plug the gaps in all three of India's military branches, the air force, navy and army.

"It is a case of being able to redress the situation of obsolescence, where in many major platforms, aircrafts, ships and certain equipment for the army, which could not be acquired due to funding constraints, are now gradually being redressed," said Bhaskar.

Big defense deals struck in the past year include an agreement to buy a Russian aircraft carrier. The Indian air force is also acquiring advanced jet trainers for its fighter pilots. And New Delhi has signed a deal with Israel for the supply of three sophisticated early-warning radar systems.

Rahul Bedi of Jane's Defense Weekly says the purchases are part of nuclear-capable India's plans to flex its military muscles in South Asia.

"India is now embarked on a regional power projection exercise, and for this exercise it needs more sophisticated platforms for its navy and its air force, and these acquisitions are in fact going to continue over many years," said Bedi.

Much of India's defense equipment is still purchased from Russia, but Israel is also emerging as a key supplier, as are the Western European countries. The United States, the largest supplier of arms to developing nations, is also feeding the Indian market.