The French offer of nuclear attack submarines will dramatically widen the scope of defence cooperation with India. This is a file photo of the latest under construction French SSN of the Barracuda class

France is seeking to break fresh ground in advancing its strategic partnership with India by putting, for the first time, nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) on offer.

Sources privy to the agenda for the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emanuel Macron slated for August 22 evening in Paris ahead of the G-7 Summit disclosed that the French are also set to offer 36 follow-on Rafale fighters and F21 heavy weight torpedoes for Indian Navy Scorpene submarines in Government-to-Government deals.

India has an ambitious program to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines at an approximate cost of over 100,000 Crore. The French are likely to offer partnership in designing and building these submarines in India. France's Naval Group is currently building the Barracuda class SSNs for the French Navy.

So far, the only two SSNs operated by India were acquired on lease from Russia. The Indian Navy is currently operating one Akula class submarine, INS Chakra. It is also acquiring a second submarine on the same class on lease. With long-endurance under the sea, these vessels are powerful instruments of sea denial to adversaries.

The French offer will not only broaden India's options to acquire game-changing weapon systems beyond its traditional arms supplier Russia but also dramatically widen the scope of Indo-French defence cooperation.

A big push is also expected to be given to the offer of 36 more Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force. The 2016 order for the first lot of 36 Rafales under emergency procurement at a cost of 7.87 Billion Euros became politically contested. India, in the meanwhile, has announced a new programme to acquire 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) under the Strategic Partnership Model.

The Indian response to the French offer for a second lot of 36 Rafale fighters off the shelf will be closely watched. The Rafale is also expected to compete in India's MRFA competition for meeting a larger requirement.

Against a requirement of 42 fighter squadrons, the IAF strength is down to 32, with several more squadrons of vintage Soviet/Russian-origin aircraft set for decommissioning in the near future.

Reports have indicated that the French offer for the second lot of off-the-shelf Rafales in the same configuration as those in the earlier order shall be significantly cheaper because the cost of the India-specific enhancements and setting up of maintenance infrastructure in India shall not be incurred for the second time.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa are set to travel to France on September 19 to accept the first delivery of the Rafale from the 2016 order. The French company Dassault is under contract to supply all 36 fighters by 2022.

India is in the market for heavy weight torpedoes for 6 under procurement Scorpene submarines after the Black Shark torpedo it had shortlisted earlier became unavailable because of the blacklisting of the Finmeccanica/Leonardo Group following the Agusta Westland helicopter scam. The Black Shark is supplied by WASS, a Leonardo group company. The French Government is now putting its weight behind the offer of the Naval Group, the OEM for the Scorpene, for F21 torpedoes.