Indigenous Conventional Submarines – The Time Has Come For A National Effort

For Project 75I (P75I) (Project 75), India has issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) to two strategic partners, Mazgaon Docks Ltd. (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). Now that’s a good sign. Sadly, the project is about 20 years behind schedule.

It will take another decade for the first submarines to enter service – assuming the contract is signed by next year and all goes well from here on.

Nevertheless, even if it were possible, this would not halt the decline of submarine numbers nor would it likely be any more effective than the current P75 program in acquiring submarine building skills.

Potential For Delays And Derailment Of P751

A strategic partnership model may hinder the process and cause delays. An indigenous submarine project should be considered with the Indian Navy’s Submarine Design Group (SDG), DRDO, MDL, L&T, and other companies that had been involved in Scorpene and India’s nuclear submarines. India signed an agreement in 1981 to buy four Type 209 submarines with full technology transfer from German company HDW – two of which would be built in Germany and two in India. A second was planned for 1985 but was dropped due to the kickback scandal.

The Time Has Come For A National Effort To Make Indigenous Conventional Submarines

Its Submarine Design Group (SDG) was designed under Project 75, the Indian Navy’s Type 1500 submarine, based on the Type 209 design, but it required design validation from foreign companies. France, the UK, Sweden, and Russia received Letters of Intent in 1997. The French were the only ones willing to take part in the project provided their Combat Suite was chosen for the submarines. In addition, the Navy needed tube-launched missiles. The French industry was willing to offer its SM-39 Exocet if it were selected for the Project-75 Combat System and those to be upgraded later. This was later ditched for the far more advanced French Scorpene.

However, the outcome of the decision was that India lost the opportunity to develop its submarines and the expertise to build submarines MDL acquired. The first phase of this program includes the construction of six P75 and six P75I submarines each through two separate production lines in phase 1, building 24 conventional submarines by 2030. Aside from learning from phase 1, phase 2 will focus on building 12 indigenous submarines. No progress was made. A contract for six Scorpene submarines with the Spanish consortium Armaris in 2005 brought the P75 to light. In 2017, the first submarine finally took to the sea five years late. Two more submarines followed shortly afterward. Three more may follow by 2022 or 2023.

An initial request for information (RFI) for P75I was issued in 2008. It was not just delayed in the RFP that slowed down defense procurement in India, but also a disagreement over which Indian entity should build the submarines. This project was given to MDL on a nomination basis in 2018, instead of the strategic partnership (SP) model, which included private shipbuilders before switching back.

Therefore, the concurrent effort was to shore up the naval force and gain crucial expertise in making submarines at home has been transformed into a “successor project”. Due to budget constraints, India has only been able to produce six submarines per year, instead of 24 planned submarines.

The original RFI took 13 years to become an RFP. Strategic partners (SPs) are free to approach original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), finalize one, and submit a techno-commercial proposal. Despite the selection of OEMs by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), it will be the SPs who make the ultimate selection, as they are solely responsible for setting standards for OEM capability and willingness to meet a range of obligations.

SP model winners are required to present an indigenization roadmap, an ecosystem of domestic manufacturers, partnerships with MSMEs, massive PSUs, and a global supply chain, which are under the MoD’s supervision. A roadmap for R&D needs to be provided by the SP to attain self-reliance. Those requirements are then fulfilled by the OEM. A contract will have to be agreed to between the SP and the OEM to safeguard their interests. Strategic partners assume the responsibility and responsibility for major strategic projects.

The Strategic Partnership Model is complex and causes anxiety among foreign OEMs. A lack of balance in the SP Model prompted SAAB to withdraw in 2019. For fear of losing their intellectual property, OEMs may be less inclined to offer cutting-edge technologies with nationalization clauses and less than 50% control.

The CAG report on the MRCA (Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) tender indicates that Dassault’s offer was non-compliant with RFP for L1 and the lengthy negotiations that followed wasted precious time with no worthwhile results. SPs will present offers to the MoD on behalf of OEMs requesting the P75I. This increases the chances that gaming will become L1.

The situation could become problematic. By doing so, India’s goals of acquiring the submarines on time and meeting RFP requirements will be compromised. OEMs are liable for non-compliance if they fail to comply. A review of the Rafale contract shows that even governments can botch agreements. It may not matter to public sector companies but will result in their demise.

India’s Current Submarine Building Capabilities

As a result of its technological development over the last decade, India can make its own nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines and has approved plans for nuclear-powered attack submarines. A Naval Group India executive said in 2012, “MDL can produce pressure hulls faster than we can in our facilities in France.” Having manufactured the six submarine section hulls, MDL has now begun the very sophisticated task of outfitting the vessels: installing equipment, cables, pipes, and cradles in each section.

The Time Has Come For A National Effort To Make Indigenous Conventional Submarines

As soon as all these tasks are completed, the learning curve will plateau, permitting MDL to again serve as a premier submarine manufacturer in India. As part of the PWR (pressurized water reactor), Walchandnagar Industries supplied the steam turbines and associated systems. “India’s technological skills and managerial expertise” is a very significant and encouraging demonstration, writes former Chief of Navy Admiral Arun Prakash after the launch of Arihant, as the submarine is named after its commissioning into the Indian Navy. Being quick learners, our scientists, engineers, and designers acquired proficiency in many of the complex technologies required to construct a nuclear submarine.”

The Indian Defence Research and Development Organization has come up with some excellent products, including combat-management systems, sonars, and electronic warfare systems. The Indian government approved the construction of three nuclear-powered attack submarines this year, which will be 95 percent indigenous. It is expected that the construction of these subs will begin in 2023 or 2024. Moreover, Indian shipyards provide major refits, including life extensions for existing submarines.

A National Submarine Project

Currently, India owns 15 conventional submarines. In addition to the four Shishumar (HDW), there are eight Sindhughosh (Kilo) and three Scorpene, with three more due by 2022-23. They are nearing the end of their service lives as Shishumars and Sindhughoshs. Two Shishumar and four Sindhughosh-class submarines might live longer after undergoing major repairs and life certification, but that leaves the Indian Navy with half the submarines it requires.

The Time Has Come For A National Effort To Make Indigenous Conventional Submarines

It is prudent to consider a similar national effort to build conventional submarines involving SDG, MDL, L&T, DRDO, and other major companies involved in India’s nuclear submarine project. In some areas, India may seek the help of friendly countries. While the government considers an interim purchase of Scorpene with air-independent propulsion.

Scorpene submarines are being refitted, and AIP is being installed on the last two. Upgrades are going on to the first four. A sixth Scorpene is planned for delivery in 2022-23, so MDL can continue producing after that. Submarine numbers will not only decline but expertise and skilled manpower will be retained and mistakes not repeated.

Nandana Valsan

Nandana Valsan is a Journalist/Writer by profession and an 'India Book of Records holder from Kochi, Kerala. She is pursuing MBA and specializes in Journalism and Mass Communication. She’s best known for News Writings for both small and large Web News Media, Online Publications, Freelance writing, and so on. ‘True Love: A Fantasy Bond’ is her first published write-up as a co-author and 'Paradesi Synagogue: History, Tradition & Antiquity' is her second successful write-up in a book as a co-author in the National Record Anthology. She has won Millenia 15 Most Deserving Youth Award 2022 in the category of Writer. A lot of milestones are waiting for her to achieve. Being a Writer, her passion for helping readers in all aspects of today's digital era flows through in the expert industry coverage she provides.

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