Whither Project 75(I)…. and In­dia’s Sub­ma­rine Ca­pa­bil­ity

In­dige­nous sub­ma­rine con­struc­tion is in­deed the need of the hour and re­quires to go beyond mere li­censed pro­duc­tion to truly in­clude trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy which needs to be ab­sorbed if any mean­ing­ful ca­pa­bil­ity is to emerge

SP's NavalForces - - FRONT PAGE - Com­modore Anil Jai Singh (Retd)

In­dige­nous sub­ma­rine con­struc­tion is in­deed the need of the hour.

DUR­ING RE­CENTLY HELD MEET­ING of the De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC), In­dias De­fence Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley ad­dressed a ma­jor con­cern of the In­dian Navy (IN) by ap­prov­ing the ac­cep­tance of ne­ces­sity ( AoN), a ma­jor mile­stone in In­dias de­fence pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure, for two sub­ma­rine projects. The first was the ac­cep­tance for a ser­vice life ex­ten­sion pro­gramme ( SLEP) for six ex­ist­ing sub­marines (four of the Sind­hughosh class and two of the Shishu­mar class). The SLEP will en­sure their avail­abil­ity for at least another decade and will al­le­vi­ate the im­pend­ing short­age in num­bers of front­line com­bat-wor­thy sub­marines.

The sec­ond and per­haps more sig­nif­i­cant decision for the long term was that all six sub­marines of Project 75(I) will be built in In­dian ship­yards through trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT) ar­range­ment with a for­eign sub­ma­rine man­u­fac­turer. While the mer­its of this decision can be de­bated, both th­ese de­ci­sions could not have come a mo­ment too soon as the INs cur­rent sub­ma­rine ca­pa­bil­ity is in­deed a mat­ter of grave con­cern which has been re­peat­edly ar­tic­u­lated at the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

In the 47-years his­tory of the sub­ma­rine arm which came into be­ing with the com­mis­sion­ing of INS Kalavari, a Fox­trot class sub­ma­rine on De­cem­ber 8, 1967, the one con­sis­tent fea­ture has been the in­con­sis­tency in the Navys sub­ma­rine ac­qui­si­tion pro­grammes. After four Fox­trot class sub­marines were ac­quired be­tween 1967 and 1969, another four of the same class fol­lowed be­tween 1972 and 1974. A long hia­tus there­after was fol­lowed by a flurry of ac­qui­si­tions be­tween 1986 and 1994 with the in­duc­tion of 12 sub­marines (eight Sind­hughosh (Kilo) class and four Shishu­mar (Type 209) class, in­clud­ing two built in­dige­nously). Another two Sind­hughosh class sub­marines fol­lowed—the ill-fated Sind­hu­rak­shak in 1999 and INS Sind­hushas­tra in 2000. The lat­ter was the first to be armed with tor­pedo tube launched anti-ship mis­siles. The fick­le­ness in In­dia’s sub­ma­rine ca­pa­bil­ity de­vel­op­ment is best il­lus­trated by how an in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity, de­vel­oped at con­sid­er­able cost and con­sti­tut­ing an im­por­tant land­mark in In­dias avowed goal of be­com­ing builders navy, was sac­ri­ficed at the al­tar of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency after the con­struc­tion of just two sub­marines with the fa­cil­i­ties at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai, go­ing waste. The coun­try is still pay­ing the cost of this decision two decades later as it strug­gles to build its first in­dige­nous con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine. Equally il­lus­tra­tive of the in­con­sis­ten­cies in our ac­qui­si­tion pro­grammes is that no sub­ma­rine has been com­mis­sioned in the IN since 2000; other than the SSN, INS Chakra, leased from Rus­sia.

It was to ad­dress this very is­sue that a well thought out and achiev­able plan for in­dige­nous sub­ma­rine con­struc­tion over a 30-year pe­riod (2000 to 2030) was ap­proved by the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee on Se­cu­rity (CCS) in 1999. As per this plan, the IN should have com­mis­sioned six sub­marines each on two pro­duc­tion lines through a ToT ar­range­ments with two for­eign sub­ma­rine builders by 2012 and 12 in­dige­nously de­signed sub­marines built on th­ese two pro­duc­tion lines should have been join­ing the Navy ev­ery year or so there­after till 2030 such that the IN would have a force level of at least 20 con­tem­po­rary sub­marines by then. Ship and sub­ma­rine build­ing pro­grammes are no­to­ri­ous for de­lays in time and in­crease in cost the world over so some slip­pages in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of this plan would have been ac­cept­able and per­haps were built into the plan. How­ever the re­al­ity on ground re­flects a dis­mal pic­ture of decision mak­ing in the hal­lowed cor­ri­dors of South Block.

As we stand on the cusp of the half-way mark of this plan, not even one sub­ma­rine has yet been built. An op­ti­mistic as­sess­ment would es­ti­mate that first sub­ma­rine is at least three years away from be­com­ing fully op­er­a­tional though DCNS France and MDL have as­sured its avail­abil­ity by end 2016. The Project 75 pro­gramme has been be­set by de­lays and there may still be more to follow. Just one day after the De­fence Min­is­ter vis­ited MDL in Au­gust 2014, Ad­mi­ral R.K. Sarawat (Retd), the CMD of MDL, stated to the me­dia that fur­ther de­lays can­not be ruled out and was un­will­ing to of­fer a firm time­line in the ab­sence of a con­fir­ma­tion to that ef­fect from the col­lab­o­ra­tor (DCNS of France). In fact many of the rea­sons for de­lay have been at­trib­uted to DCNS though that may not be the full story. It is also un­der­stood that the re­main­ing five will follow at an in­ter­val of nine months each, which ap­pears to be a rather op­ti­mistic as­sess­ment and would per­haps be closer to a year at the very least. While this pro­gramme is well un­der­way de­spite the hic­cups, and will run till 2022, it is the de­lay in the ini­ti­a­tion of Project 75(I) which is of greater con­cern.

Project 75(I) should ide­ally have run almost con­cur­rently with Project 75 and is there­fore almost a decade be­hind sched­ule. How­ever, the re­cent DAC ap­proval, which has re­versed the decision taken in 2010, has merely re­it­er­ated what the CCS had ap­proved fif­teen years ago with the project nowhere nearer com­mence­ment. Progress may have been made on pa­per and there is per­haps a draft re­quest for pro­posal (RFP) do­ing the rounds in the labyrinths of In­dias Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) but very lit­tle is ac­tu­ally quan­tifi­able ei­ther in con­tent or sched­ule. A ma­jor con­se­quence of this in­de­ci­sion apart from the op­er­a­tional as­pect will be a man­i­fold in­crease in the cost of the project from its ini­tial es­ti­mate, and with the plum­met­ing ru­pee, a far greater out­flow of for­eign ex­change when­ever it hap­pens.

In 2010, the DAC had de­cided that to re­duce the time­lines and ad­dress con­cerns of an age­ing sub­ma­rine fleet, two sub­marines would be ac­quired di­rectly from the se­lected for­eign part­ner and the re­main­ing four sub­marines would be built in In­dia— three at MDL, and one at the Hin­dus­tan Ship­yard Limited (HSL), Visakha­p­at­nam. While the nom­i­na­tion of the yards par­tic­u­larly the lat­ter and that too for only one sub­ma­rine was de­bat­able, the need for two from abroad was en­tirely jus­ti­fied and would have helped kick-start the pro­gramme. How­ever, the mer­its of that decision not­with­stand­ing, what is disturbing is that almost four years later, there is still no RFP and now that the DAC has re­vised its decision to build all six in In­dia, the RFP will get fur­ther de­layed as it will have to be re­drafted in line with this decision.

At present none of the ship­yards in In­dia with the ex­cep­tion of MDL has the in­fra­struc­ture in place to build sub­marines. Set­ting up the in­fra­struc­ture in­volves large costs which the ship­yards would be un­will­ing to invest till there is some as­sur­ance of their get­ting the or­der. The or­der will de­pend on the choice of sub­ma­rine and the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the for­eign OEMs. In the ab­sence of an RFP, this process can­not even com­mence. So in a nutshell, Project 75(I) at present is only an as­pi­ra­tion and given the char­ac­ter­is­tic pace of decision mak­ing in the MoD, even the most op­ti­mistic guessti­mate would sug­gest that con­struc­tion will not be­gin for at least another five to seven years and the first sub­ma­rine will not en­ter ser­vice be­fore 2025.

The re­think and the decision to build all sub­marines in In­dia must have been taken with due thought, and noth­ing will be bet­ter than this guessti­mate be­ing proven wrong. How­ever, con­sid­er­ing that the pre­vi­ous decision was taken four years ago to ad­dress the age­ing and con­se­quent short­fall in num­bers of the ex­ist­ing sub­marines, rev­ers­ing that decision four years later and with the sub­marines four years older does seem strange con­sid­er­ing that we have also lost one sub­ma­rine to an ac­ci­dent since then.

Any new sub­ma­rine pro­gramme must in­clude a mis­sile fir­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and an air in­de­pen­dent propul­sion (AIP) sys­tem. Un­for­tu­nately the first four Project 75 sub­marines are not be­ing fit­ted with an AIP (the op­tion is only for the last two with an op­tion for retro-fit­ment on the first four later) and the range of the Ex­o­cet SM39 mis­sile they are be­ing armed with is less than that of some mod­ern tor­pe­does. There­fore the first AIP sys­tem is not likely to en­ter ser­vice till the early years of the next decade.

The decision on the choice of AIP and the mis­sile could per­haps be the rea­son for the in­or­di­nate de­lay in the is­sue of the RFP for P-75(I) con­sid­er­ing that there are only five sub­ma­rine man­u­fac­tur­ers in the fray. Of th­ese one was not al­lowed to bid by its par­ent company, another is hav­ing ma­jor de­sign chal­lenges with its own project while a third has not been able to de­liver a worth­while prod­uct to its own navy and has un­proven tech­nolo­gies de­spite its claims to the con­trary. This leaves just two, both of whose AIP ca­pa­bil­i­ties are proven and well known and so is the mis­sile they can of­fer.

It is also no se­cret that the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO) is de­vel­op­ing its own AIP sys­tem us­ing fuel cell tech­nol­ogy and has also suc­cess­fully fired a Brah­Mos mis­sile from an un­der­wa­ter pon­toon. This mis­sile, how­ever, can­not be launched from a tor­pedo tube and would re­quire a ver­ti­cal launch sys­tem which would have to be in­cor­po­rated into an ex­ist­ing de­sign. This in turn would lead to even more de­lay in the re­sponse to the RFP as the for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ers will have to mod­ify and val­i­date their ex­ist­ing de­sign lest de­sign is­sues emerge later lead­ing to cost and time over­runs, both of which the Navy can ill af­ford. If the in­ten­tion is to is­sue RFP after the in­dige­nous AIP and mis­sile pro­grammes are suit­ably de­vel­oped to achieve ma­tu­rity in time for in­clu­sion on board th­ese sub­marines, it could be an in­ter­minable wait.

In­dige­nous sub­ma­rine con­struc­tion is in­deed the need of the hour and re­quires to go beyond mere li­censed pro­duc­tion to truly in­clude trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy which needs to be ab­sorbed if any mean­ing­ful ca­pa­bil­ity is to emerge. The sec­ond phase

of the 30-year plan which was meant to achieve this is not even near get­ting off the ground be­cause in the last ten years we have been un­able to and are still quite some dis­tance away from ab­sorb­ing th­ese so­phis­ti­cated tech­nolo­gies. Project 75(I) can pro­vide that op­por­tu­nity pro­vided it is al­lowed to progress.

In con­clu­sion, the need for pro­gress­ing Project 75(I) is im­me­di­ate. While the decision to build all six in In­dia may not seem pru­dent vis-ˆ-vis the ear­lier ap­proval to im­port two and build the rest in In­dia, now that it has been made, should be ini­ti­ated im­me­di­ately and pro­gressed ex­pe­di­tiously. The com­plex de­fence pro­cure­ment pro­ce­dure, the time re­quired for re­spond­ing to a RFP (if the de­sign has to be mod­i­fied), the time re­quired in de­cid­ing the In­dian ship­yard(s) and that ship­yards col­lab­o­ra­tion ar­range­ment with the for­eign man­u­fac­turer are only some of the is­sues that will con­trib­ute to de­lays in its progress. Even an op­ti­mistic as­sess­ment would sug­gest that it would take at least four years for a con­tract to be signed after the RFP is is­sued and another five to seven years be­fore the first sub­ma­rine en­ters ser­vice. The ear­li­est the first sub­ma­rine can en­ter ser­vice is at least ten years away.

Per­haps the ap­proval for re­fur­bish­ing six of the older sub­marines could have been a fac­tor in re­vis­ing this decision as it also res­onates with the theme of in­di­geni­sa­tion re-em­pha­sised by the new po­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion. That decision, though an in­escapable im­per­a­tive and ur­gent re­quire­ment does not come with­out its own share of risk par­tic­u­larly if it is go­ing to be taken up in In­dian ship­yards which have no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of such a com­plex project. As for the Rus­sian re­as­sur­ance of pro­vid­ing all the tech­ni­cal support, the cost and time over­runs in the Sind­hukirti re­fit presently un­der­way at HSL should be kept in mind.

The rapidly evolv­ing mar­itime se­cu­rity dy­namic and our na­tional geopo­lit­i­cal im­per­a­tives have also high­lighted the im­por­tance of the SSN as an in­te­gral com­po­nent of the Navys blue wa­ter reach and power pro­jec­tion. The sub­ma­rine ac­qui­si­tion pro­gramme there­fore is be­ing con­stantly re­viewed and the SSN will def­i­nitely be­come an im­por­tant fac­tor in our force level de­vel­op­ment. Not­with­stand­ing the va­lid­ity or rel­e­vance of the 30-year plan in the con­tem­po­rary sce­nario, the need to get Project 75(I) up and run­ning needs no em­pha­sis and a long-term sub­ma­rine ac­qui­si­tion strat­egy needs to be put in place. This should be based on re­al­is­tic in­puts from all stake­hold­ers and give due at­ten­tion to the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ment, in­dige­nous tech­nolo­gies, na­tional sub­ma­rine build­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and the fis­cal re­sources and should not be held ran­som to po­lit­i­cal or bu­reau­cratic com­pro­mises.

Ed­i­tors post­script: Top sources in­di­cated to SP's that the ship­yards that will be the con­tenders for this pro­gramme in­clude Mazagon Dock Ltd., Hin­dus­tan Ship­yard Ltd., Goa Ship­yard Ltd,. Gar­den Reach Ship­builders & En­gi­neers Ltd, Cochin Ship­yard Ltd., Larsen & Toubro and Pi­pavav. Bids will be in­vited from In­dian ship­yards to build the six sub­marines who will join up with a for­eign part­ner to fill the tech­no­log­i­cal gaps. Global con­tenders in­clude DCNS (France), Ru­bin (Rus­sia), HDW (Ger­many), Na­van­tia (Spain) and pos­si­bly Kockum (Swe­den). The sub­marines will need to be equipped with land at­tack mis­siles and air in­de­pen­dent propul­sion sys­tem.


DCNS Scor­pene SSK for In­dia – fu­ture view

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