(Bloomberg) — India is tripling its fleet of nuclear submarines in the country’s priciest naval expansion in five years, a move that comes as China increases naval activity in the Indian Ocean.
A cabinet committee on Tuesday approved plans to build six nuclear-powered submarines and seven stealth warships at a cost of about 1 trillion rupees ($16 billion), according to government officials familiar with the matter. They asked not to be named as they aren’t authorized to speak to the media.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to accelerate moves to modernize India’s military arsenal since coming to office in May. More submarines and frigates will help him counter China’s increased naval strength, which it displayed last year when it sent two submarines to dock near India’s coastline in Sri Lanka.
The order would also support Modi’s efforts to bolster India’s domestic defense industry. Four of the frigates will be built at Mazagaon Dock in Mumbai, with the rest manufactured at Garden Reach Ship Builders & Engineers Ltd. in Kolkata, the officials said.
The submarines will be built at Naval Dockyard in Visakhapatnam, a city on India’s eastern coastline, they said. The submarines and warships will come into service from 2020 to 2030, one of the officials said.
India currently has one nuclear-powered submarine in service that it leased from Russia, with another under construction locally that will come into service next year. It has nine stealth frigates, six of which were made in Russia.
India plans to spend $150 billion through 2027 on new fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, helicopters and submarines. Pending purchases include 126 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation SA and 145 howitzer guns from BAE Systems Plc.
Ageing military hardware has led to a string of accidents among India’s armed forces. A Russian made MIG-21 crashed in January while 18 people died in India’s worst submarine accident last year. Two navy officers perished in a fire aboard another submarine last February.
The country has more than 136 warships of varying capability and about 6,400 tanks and infantry combat vehicles. The navy has two aircraft carriers, both decades old. One was obtained from the U.K.’s Royal Navy while the other is a refitted Russian vessel.
India surpassed China in 2010 to become the world’s largest arms importer and relies on purchases from abroad for 70 percent of its weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Russia and the Soviet Union have been India’s biggest weapons suppliers, accounting for about 70 percent of its arms imports since 1950.
On a trip to New Delhi last month, U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to a pilot project in which India will jointly produce parts for drones and transport jets. The two countries also will set up a working group to share aircraft carrier technology and develop jet engines.
–With assistance from Unni Krishnan in New Delhi.