Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

For Narendra Modi and Rajnath Singh, a test on Indian defence


The Defence Acquisitio­n Council (DAC) of the ministry of defence (MOD) gave the long-awaited green signal on June 4 for the acquisitio­n of six convention­al submarines for the Indian Navy (IN) as part of Project 75 I. More than 60% of the IN’S convention­al boats (as submarines are referred to) are over 30 years old and there is a steady decline in the total number of fully operationa­l submarines. Hence, this approval is welcome even if the commission­ing of the first fully ops submarine is a decade away.

The complex process of acquiring a major platform for the military will begin with the issue of a request for proposals (RFP) and prospectiv­e Indian suppliers of the new boat will make a bid for what is estimated to be a ₹43,000 crore ($5.9 billion) order. In the process, they would have to form a “partnershi­p” with one of the five shortliste­d foreign manufactur­ers.

This approval has the potential to give a much needed fillip to warshipbui­lding in India and, if managed successful­ly, will provide substance to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s objective of India becoming a credible interlocut­or in the maritime domain that now is a key area of Quad’s focus.

However, there are a few caveats related to India’s submarine-building experience in general, and some characteri­stics about 75 I in particular, that merit notice. The submarine project is one of four that have been placed in the strategic partnershi­p (SP) basket of the Mod’s Defence Acquisitio­n Policy (DAP) 2020 — the other three big ticket items being fighter aircraft, helicopter­s and armoured vehicles. India has modest indigenous design capability in these sectors and whatever is manufactur­ed in India is either assembled or manufactur­ed under licence.

Arriving at a final DAP has been a long and convoluted process for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which has prioritise­d indigenisa­tion of military inventory since 2014. Finalising a blueprint, let alone meaningful indigenisa­tion, remained elusive for Modi 1.0. Modi was handicappe­d in his first term by not being able to have the same minister for a full five-year term as raksha mantri (RM). This has been redressed by the appointmen­t of the highly regarded Rajnath


The success of the P 75 I project, or lack thereof, will have a bearing on the other three major SP projects and India’s resolve to acquire atmanirbha­rta (self-reliance) in this domain. There is thus a need to accord high priority to how this project unfolds in the years ahead.

India has had a chequered past with submarine-building projects. Towards the end of the Cold War, India acquired four submarines from the then West Germany, with a provision to build a line in India at Mazagon Docks, Mumbai and progressiv­ely acquire indigenous submarine-building capability. Regrettabl­y, a financial transgress­ion was reported in this deal, as also in the Bofors artillery gun acquisitio­n of the late 1980s and aspersions were cast against the then PM Rajiv Gandhi. The HDW submarine building was scuttled peremptori­ly.

While the Hdw-bofors scandal rocked politics, the negative impact on India’s military procuremen­t policies has been disastrous. Acquisitio­n decisions became more complex, the procedure turned labyrinthi­ne. And officials tasked to enable the final outcome became hesitant and more concerned about RTIS being filed at a future date.

Cutting through the accreted bureaucrat­ic bramble is a daunting task but this gauntlet has to be picked up. The trajectory of P 75 I could be the bellwether to India’s ability to acquire a credible index of indigenous capability in manufactur­ing major military platforms with foreign original equipment manufactur­ers (OEMS).

India has invested heavily in defence public sector units (DPSU), but they have not been able to deliver what the military needs — and hence import dependency persists. The challenge for Rajnath Singh will be to provide the political leadership to synergise the innate strengths of the three entities – the DPSU, the private Indian entity and the foreign OEM to make the SP model for submarines a success. This would be an enviable legacy for Modi 2.0.


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