The much-awaited Rs. 43,000 crore project to indigenously build six new-generation submarines with foreign collaboration has been cleared with the approval of RFP (request for proposal) by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on 4th June. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who chaired the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved the tender to be issued to Indian Strategic Partners (SP) – government-run shipyard Mazagon Docks (MDL) and private shipbuilder L&T. The DAC has also accorded approval of procurement of Air Defence Guns and Ammunition worth Rs. 6,000 crore under the Buy & Make (Indian) category.
The government had shortlisted these two SPs to collaborate and construct six diesel-electric conventional submarines equipped with the state-of-the-art Air Independent Propulsion system with five foreign OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) to present their joint bids to execute the ambitious ‘Project-75 India’ (P-75I) programme, which has been touted as ‘Mother of all underwater combat deals’. The P-75I will be the first project to be launched under the Strategic Partnership (SP) policy, under the Make-in-India banner since 2017. Following the RFP, the two Indian SPs – MDL and L&T will tie up with one of the five selected foreign OEMs to submit their technical and financial bids.
The five Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are South Korean shipbuilding and marine engineering company Daewoo, Spain’s Navantia, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), Russian Rosoboronexport/ Rubin Design Bureau (RDB) and the French Naval Group.
The long-awaited project, which was first mooted in 2007, moved to the crucial next stage where OEMs can tie-up with either of the two Indian SPs to augment the fast depleting underwater strength of the Indian Navy. This is in spite of the fact that there is still a long way to go before the actual contract is signed and the first submarine to be on the building-line for production in the shipyards.
According to a MoD statement, this is a landmark event that will enable India to achieve its 30-year submarine construction programme envisioned to acquire national competence in submarine construction and for the domestic industry to indigenously design and construct submarines in India. The availability of new technologies and advanced manufacturing capabilities to the Industry will be an important step towards enhancing the nation’s quest for self-reliance in modern conventional submarine construction and sustainment activities whilst creating direct and indirect job opportunities in India, the statement added.
Indian Navy’s 30-Year Plan
The P-75I programme is a part of the 30-year submarine building plan cleared by the then Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in 1999 that terminates in 2030. As a part of the plan, India was to build 24 submarines -18 conventional and six nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs) as an effective deterrence to China and Pakistan.
The Indian Navy’s current strength consists of 15 conventional submarines (9 EKMs, 4 SSKs & 2 Kalvari class under P-75) besides two nuclear-powered submarines- INS Chakra (SSN) and INS Arihant (SSBN). The second indigenous SSBN, INS Arighat will be commissioned soon. Out of these, only half are operational at any given time because at least 10 of them are over 25 years old.
Currently, two conventional submarines-INS Kalvari and INS Khanderi have been commissioned out of six Scorpene submarines being built at Mazagon Docks (MDL) in collaboration with Naval Group (earlier known as DCNS) of France, under the Project-75 (P-75) at a cost of around of Rs. 24,000 crore. The Scorpene deal was signed in October 2005 and the first submarine was to be delivered by 2012 but due to inordinate delays and teething problems, delays occurred. The first one, INS Kalvari was commissioned on 14 December 2017. The second one, Khandari was commissioned on 28 September 2019.
The third Scorpene-class submarine INS Karanj has been commissioned this year on 10 March after two years of rigorous sea trials. The Indian Navy has already launched the fourth submarine Vela in May 2019. The fifth submarine Vagir, having superior stealth features like the advanced acoustic absorption technique, was launched on 12 November 2020 at the Mazagon Dock. The sixth is in an advanced stage of outfitting.
The P-75 project is turning out to be the backbone of India’s conventional submarine force. The timely completion of this project is crucial keeping in view the rapidly growing Chinese and Pakistani underwater fleet.