India Plans First Defence Pact With South Korea

India and South Korea are likely to ink their first defence contract as the Defence Ministry is negotiating for six minesweepers from a South Korean firm. While two vessels will be supplied by the manufacturer, the remaining minesweepers will be built in India.

Bilateral defence ties got a boost last year when Defence Minister AK Antony visited Seoul and held wide-ranging discussions with the Korean leadership. South Korea, famous for world-class ship-building facilities, evinced keen interest in industry-to-industry relations with India, besides regular military exchanges like joint exercises with the Indian armed forces.

The South Korean leadership also expressed a keen desire to cooperate with India in the field of hi-tech defence equipment, sources said on Sunday. They added that Korean firm Kangnam Corporation was the lowest bidder and met technical and other requirements.

The Ministry had short-listed two vendors — Kangnam and Italian firm Intermarine — for minesweepers which clear the sea lanes of mines and ensure that they do not cause any damage to warships.

At present, the Navy operates 12 minesweepers of the Pondicherry and Karwar class that are deployed in equal numbers along the eastern and the western sea board. The warships were built in the 1970s and 1980s and the Navy is planning to replace them with the modern vessels.

The contract was to be signed with Kangnam earlier but it got delayed after the Italian firm went to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) against the decision. However, the issue was now resolved and contract negotiations were progressing well, officials said.

According to the tender, Kangnam will be required to build the first two warships, following which Goa Shipyard Limited will be commissioned to build the rest minesweepers at its facilities.
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