NEW DELHI: India could discuss the leasing of mine sweeper vessels from South Korea, a long standing demand of the Indian Navy, during talks between Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his visiting South Korean counterpart Suh Wook on Friday.

Suh, a former South Korean army general, who became the defence minister in September 2020, will arrive in New Delhi later on Thursday.

During the visit, Singh and Suh will “discuss India–RoK (Republic of Korea) defence cooperation along with other regional and international issues of mutual interest", a statement from the Indian defence ministry said.

According to a person familiar with the development, the subject of leasing mine sweepers from South Korea could come up in discussions with Suh. South Korea, Russia and the US are seen as the three countries having minesweepers that are key to keeping sea lanes and harbours safe from floating or underwater mines.

The talks could also cover a second order for the 155mm, 52 calibre K9 Vajra howitzer built by India’s Larsen & Toubro with technology transfer from South Korea’s Hanwha Defence, the person cited above said. The K9 Vajra is based on South Korea’s K9 Thunder. L&T has completed an order of 100 howitzers from the Indian Army last month under a contract awarded in 2017.

The Indian Navy has been on the lookout for mine-counter measure vessels or MCMVs since 2005. It had been in talks with South Korea’s Kangnam Corporation to build 12 vessels in state-owned Goa Shipyard Limited. But the discussions ran aground in 2018 with India cancelling the approximately $5 billion deal that also involved transfer of technology. “High costs involved and some compliance issues" were seen as the deal breakers, the person cited above said.

Given the resource crunch facing the Indian armed forces, the option of leasing incorporated in the Defence Acquisition Plan 2020 has come in handy for the forces.

The Indian Navy has already leased high altitude drones to keep watch over the Indian Ocean region – that New Delhi considers its sphere of influence -- where China has recently been increasing its profile.

The talks between Singh and Suh could also include the Indo-Pacific, the concept of the Quad and its first leaders’ meet on 12 March besides military to military cooperation. In December 2020, Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane visited South Korea, the first ever by an Indian Army chief. The two countries have been strategic partners for several years and have signed a logistics support pact which helps the Indian Navy’s operations in the Indo-Pacific Region and in interoperability between the forces.

One of Suh’s other engagements in New Delhi will be attending as chief guest the inauguration of the “Indo-Korean Friendship Park" in New Delhi. This has been established according to an agreement between the two countries in 2019 as a monument to mark the sacrifices of Indian troops during the 1950-53 Korean War. News reports said that during the Korean war, India had sent its 60th Parachute Field Ambulance Platoon of over 600 medics who took care of thousands of soldiers and civilians.