Just a couple of days back, Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) released a dreaded Tiger Shark in the waters of the Arabian Sea. As it wiggled its way out to deep waters MDL had achieved another milestone. INS Kalvari
(translates to Tiger Shark) is the first of the Scorpene class submarines to be built at MDL with DCNS of France being the collaborator. Navantia of Spain is also involved with DCNs in the Scorpene project. Kalvari replaces the older Kalvari of the Indian Navy that was decommissioned on 31 May, 1996 after guarding our waters for close to 30 years.
It was in the 1980s that MDL started building the capacity for production and maintenance of submarines. The first submarines were of German design – Type 209 developed by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) yard. Two of these were built at HDW and the balance two at MDL, propelling India into the niche club of countries capable of manufacturing a submarine, in 1992. The first Indian built submarine was INS Shalki, followed by Shankul in 1994. Both the submarines remain operational even today.
MDL had undertaken the mid-life refits of all four Type 209 submarines. However, there was a huge speed bump ahead. The production line went cold for want of orders. MDL faced a gradual erosion of talent. In 2005 hopes soared and those who had stayed back couldn’t ask for more.
MDL was to build six Scorpene Class submarines as a part of its P75 project. The Scorpene amalgamates French and Spanish designs. A few of these have also been built for Chile, Malaysia and the other country.
The Scorpene is a fairly lethal class of submarines. These submarines use diesel, as also air independent propulsion. They incorporate state-of- art features like superior stealth and also carry precision guided weapons. The stealth factor reduces its vulnerability while the weapon systems aboard increase its lethality. These submarines can launch their weapons with torpedoes as also tube launched anti ship missiles. The launch can be underwater or from the surface. The over 61 metre long vessel requires 31 sailors to man. It can run at 20 knots
per hour, has long endurance and dives up to 1000ft.
MDL had undertaken a major modernisation plan to be able to cope with the challenge. It overhauled its yard to undertake the Modular Construction Process. The process lends itself to simultaneous construction of various
sections of the submarine, and ultimately fitting them into the same vessel. The task is complex, but as Kalvari is out to prove, MDL has been able to absorb technology and train its workforce to overcome the challenges. A new
production line is in place and the CMD, MDL assures that though the whole project was delayed by four years, timelines for delivery as assured now by MDL for all six submarines, will be adhered to. The production started in 2006.
Transfer of technology has been done in the transferee yard. DCNS and Navantia (Spain) are collaborating. Work on all six submarines is in progress. The first one is out for sea trials. The second one will soon complete setting to work. The balance four are in different stages of structural and engineering outfitting. MDL would be delivering one submarine every six months, hereafter. The Sorpene can undertake most tasks expected of a modern submarine to include anti—surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance.
Submarines normally function individually in high seas. Both the construction and operation of a submarine requires team work. The margin for errors is very low. During the construction phase, the complexity is far more than constructing a surface vessel. Scorpenes that MDL is building are the first of its class not being built in the collaborator’s premises.
Whether or not MDL will be able to do it all, will be proven by Kalvari out there beneath the blue waters somewhere, its exact location not easily known because of its stealth. As the P75 project gallops on, MDL has set its sight on the next project- P75i that is likely to involve another six submarines. However, P75i is some distance away, with the government yet to decide on collaborators.
At MDL premises, everyone hopes, the orders will be placed fast, and MDL will not re-run the story of losing trained manpower because of lack of orders.
Brig S K Chatterji (Retd)