France of­fers In­dia two stop-gap Scor­pene sub­marines


As the al­ready de­layed Project 75I re­quest for pro­posal for six new con­ven­tional at­tack sub­marines con­tin­ues to hang fire, the In­dian Navy is study­ing a list of emer­gency mea­sures to pos­si­bly shore up force lev­els in the in­terim. French ship­yard DCNS, par­tially owned by the French Govern­ment, de­sign­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers of the Scor­pene class sub­ma­rine, have put forth an of­fer of­fer­ing two Scor­pene sub­marines off the shelf as a stop-gap sup­ply to mit­i­gate rapidly re­duc­ing force lev­els in the In­dian Navy, made worse by the re­cent tragedy aboard INS Sind­hu­rak­shak, one of the Navy’s 10 Kilo class at­tack sub­marines. DCNA, with au­tho­ri­sa­tion from the French Govern­ment to make the of­fer to the In­dian Govern­ment, has as­sured the In­dian Navy that it can build two Scor­penes and de­liver them in a time pe­riod that co­in­cides with the in­duc­tion of the first of the orig­i­nal six Scor­penes be­ing built at the Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) in Mum­bai.

DCNS of­fi­cials con­firm that the Scor­pene build pro­gramme is now fully on track af­ter ma­jor hic­cups be­tween 2009 and 2013. A com­pre­hen­sive re­view meet­ing held last month took stock of progress, and in­volved per­sons from the French DGA, DCNS and French in­dus­try.

In a re­lated de­vel­op­ment, DCNS, cur­rently in an MoU with the In­dian De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) to help fa­cil­i­tate the in­te­gra­tion of the indige­nous in-de­vel­op­ment air in­de­pen­dent propul­sion (AIP) sys­tem has placed its anx­i­ety on the ta­ble be­fore the In­dian Navy about the ab­sence of an of­fi­cial backup plan in the event that the DRDO project doesn’t re­sult in a work­able AIP mo­d­ule for the fi­nal two sub­marines in the pro­duc­tion line. DCNS, which has for long tried to con­vince the In­dian Navy to com­mit to the French MESMA (Mo­d­ule d’En­ergie Sous-Marine Au­tonome) AIP sys­tem, has for­mally sug­gested to the In­dian Navy that the In­dian Govern­ment for­malise a con­tin­gency plan without fur­ther de­lay. The MESMA be­ing pro­posed will be a se­cond-gen­er­a­tion sys­tem where the steam gen­er­a­tor in­volved will be re­placed with fuel cell tech­nol­ogy, ac­cord­ing to sources. DCNS has also sug­gested that the DRDO sys­tem, be­ing devel- oped by the Naval Ma­te­ri­als Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory (NMRL) in Mum­bai, is quite un­likely to meet dead­lines given that it will need to be ready (de­vel­oped fully and then tested in dock, at sea and at depth af­ter in­te­gra­tion with the sub­ma­rine) by 2015—an un­re­al­is­tic propo­si­tion by any mea­sure. DRDO of­fi­cials con­test this, and in­sist that the pro­gramme is on track and will meet time­lines. DCNS plans to rec­om­mend to the In­dian Navy that the Plan-B be in­voked if the DRDO doesn’t meet a spec­i­fied time­line (be­yond which, de­lays would im­pact the sub­ma­rine build it­self) on the indige­nous AIP. It also plans to sug­gest that the DRDO AIP then be retro­fit­ted on the first four sub­marines, if the In­dian Navy so de­sires.

On De­cem­ber 17 last year, De­fence Min­is­ter A.K. Antony in­formed the Par­lia­ment, “Based upon the Naval HQ pro­posal, De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil has taken a de­ci­sion that P-75 I project will have four sub­marines (out of six) built within the coun­try (three at the Mazagon Dock Limited, Mum­bai, and one at the Hin­dus­tan Ship­yard Limited, Visakha­p­at­nam, on trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy, and two to be built in col­lab­o­ra­tor’s yard abroad.”

The Project 75I com­pe­ti­tion will be a fierce one, though the In­dian Navy’s pri­or­ity at this time is to see the RFP go out. Apart from DCNS with the Scor­pene, con­tenders for the $11-bil­lion deal in­clude Rus­sia’s Ru­bin with the Amur 1650, Na­van­tia for the S-80 and HDW for the Class-214. DCNS, which is al­ready steeped in the In­dian li­cence build pro­gramme will be hop­ing it is a lead con­tender for the con­tract from Europe. DCNS will be pin­ning its hopes on the P75I com­pe­ti­tion be­ing a two-horse race against the Rus­sians. It will be pin­ning its hopes for this on the fact that the HDW Class 214 sub­marines have had tech­ni­cal prob­lems in the South Korean and Greek navies (though the HDW 209s in ser­vice, the Shishu­mar class, have ac­quit­ted them­selves op­er­a­tionally, are in line for a ca­pa­bil­ity up­grade through a com­bat sys­tem and new tor­pe­does), and that the S-80 has been hit with a se­ri­ous weight im­bal­ance is­sue that has prompted Na­van­tia to en­list the help of US firm Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics Elec­tric Boat, push­ing the prospec­tive de­liv­ery sched­ule of the first boat to the Span­ish Navy till at least 2017.

The sub­marines that the In­dian Navy is look­ing for should be ca­pa­ble of op­er­at­ing in open ocean and lit­toral/shal­low wa­ters in dense ASW and EW en­vi­ron­ments and ca­pa­ble of un­der­tak­ing the fol­low­ing mis­sions: anti-sur­face and an­ti­sub­ma­rine war­fare, sup­port­ing op­er­a­tions ashore, ISR mis­sions and spe­cial forces and min­ing op­er­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the orig­i­nal in­for­ma­tion re­quest.

As has been set down by the In­dian Navy in a re­port to the MoD in 2010 re­gard­ing sub­ma­rine force lev­els, “It is a mat­ter of deep con­cern that in the next few years, In­dia will have its low­est sub­ma­rine ca­pa­bil­ity in the his­tory of the sub­ma­rine arm, as a re­sult of re­tire­ments, ob­so­les­cence, crit­i­cal de­lays in ship­build­ing/pro­cure­ment, de­spite all re­quire­ments be­ing catered for ad­e­quately in fi­nan­cial and/or per­spec­tive plans. As this crit­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity is con­stantly eroded, there is an in­verse in­crease in both ca­pa­bil­ity and strength by the PN, PLAN and other navies op­er­at­ing in the IOR. A pri­ori­tised ac­tion plan is ur­gently re­quired to stem dwin­dling op­er­a­tional avail­abil­ity and strength of the sub­ma­rine arm if the In­dian Navy is to con­trol its area of im­me­di­ate re­spon­si­bil­ity, i.e. the IOR.”

While the In­dian Navy awaits clar­ity on the tragedy aboard INS Sind­hu­rak­shak, it has an of­fer from Rus­sia for a se­cond re­fit and life-ex­ten­sion of the re­main­ing nine Project 877EKM Kilo-class sub­marines, which the Ru­bin De­sign Bureau and Zvez­dochka Ship­yard say will give the sub­marines an ad­di­tional 10 years of op­er­a­tional life—some­thing that would help the Navy tide over dwin­dling force lev­els.

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