India is all set to ink a deal with a South Korean shipyard for building eight minesweepers and hunters for its navy in its quest to overhaul its existing fleet of such specialised warships.
The deal comes at a time when New Delhi's "strategic" partnership with Seoul is growing and the latter has expressed interest in joining an anti-piracy patrol in Gulf of Aden carried out by India along with China and Japan.
The Indian Defence ministry has already completed the cost negotiations with the Pusan-based Kangnam Corporation, which was chosen as the lowest bidder in the tendering process in April last year, according to sources.
Kangnam was found to be technically qualified and it beat Italian firm Intermarine to win the bid.
The deal will include construction of first two Mine Counter-Measure Vessels (MCMV) at Pusan and the rest six to be built at the Goa Shipyard through technology transfer.
Each of these MCMVs will be worth Rs.3000 crore ($600 million), they said.
Minesweepers are specialised warships capable of detonating sea mines. These eight vessels will be capable of playing the roles of both minesweepers and mine hunters and hence, will lie somewhere in between the two in terms of its capabilities.
The contract, which was originally scheduled for signing early, last year, got delayed after the Kangnam's competitors went to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) against its selection.
But after the Defence ministry and the navy explained the rationality of Kangnam's selection as the lowest bidder to the CVC, the matter was settled and the cost negotiations began last year.
India's need for advanced MCMVs can be understood in view of intelligence inputs that Indian harbours face the threat of underwater mines that are cheaper weapons being planted by both state as well as non-state actors.
The MCMVs are made of composite material and high-grade steel to ensure minimal magnetivity and will have high-definition sonars and acoustic and magnetic sweeps to detect all kinds of underwater mines and use remote-controlled systems such as small underwater vehicles to detonate them from safe distances.
The Indian Navy currently operates 12 minesweepers of the Pondicherry and Karwar class that are equally divided between the two operational Mumbai-based Western Naval Command and Visakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command.
The Pondicherry and Karwar class of warships, built in the 1970s and 1980s, are fast approaching obsolescence and need to be replaced within this decade.
Kangnam will deliver the first two MCMVs by 2017 and Goa Shipyard Limited will complete its side of the contract by 2019, if the contract is signed this year.
The Indian Navy is also considering buying two used Osprey-class minesweepers from the US that were decommissioned by the US Navy in 2007. The US Congress has already cleared the prospective sale of these two vessels to friendly countries.
The Obama administration had in 2010 offered these two minesweepers to India, which had expressed its interest in acquiring them in April 2005.