UPDATE 1-India nuclear sub project near completion-minister

Thu Feb 12, 2009 5:03pm IST

(Updates with military satellite launch)

NEW DELHI Feb 12 (Reuters) - India's project to construct three nuclear-powered submarines at a southern India naval base is near completion, officials said on Thursday. "Things are in the final stage now," A.K. Antony, India's defence minister, told reporters in the southern city of Bangalore.

"There were bottlenecks earlier, but they are over now," a defence spokesman quoted him as having said during an airshow.

The project is part of a $2.9 billion plan to build five submarines, delayed for years due to technical problems.

"All that is behind us and we are on course to complete the project in a few months and go for trials," a defence spokesman said in New Delhi.

India's Defence Research and Development Organisation is also working on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which would be fitted into the new submarines, officials added. The country has plans to lease nuclear-powered submarines from Russia. It already has fighter aircraft and missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

India is looking to spend more than $30 billion over the next five years to modernise its largely Soviet-era arms and is also trying to strengthen its navy by introducing new weapons systems.

The country is also launching its first military spy satellite next year, the head of its air force said on Thursday, as part of India's efforts to expand its space programme.

"It will take place by middle of next year," Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major told reporters in Bangalore. (Reporting by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sugita Katyal)

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