Submarine Acquisition

By Team Q-Tech

Considering India's threat perception, maritime responsibilities and maritime borders, a robust mix of nuclear and conventional submarines is critical for safeguarding nation. Building the declining Navy's Submarine Fleet at the fastest possible pace is the need of the hour to keep the operational efficiency at a desirable level.

India currently operates a diverse fleet of submarines, including a nuclear-powered attack submarine and a ballistic missile submarine and a growing fleet of diesel-electric powered, attack submarines. Submarines are a vital part of the Naval Fleet and ideal for dissuasion and sea denial operations. Naval submarine fleet strength being precariously low at just about 13 vessels at present consisting of Russian SSK Kilo (Sindhugosh) Class acquired in the late eighties, German SSK U209 (Shishumar) Class, besides a leased nuclear-powered Improved Akula Class SSN christened INS Chakra from Russia; against the requirement of a fleet of 24 submarines. As of now only three indigenous submarines out of the total 13 and the rest of them are imported. There are eight Russian EKM submarines and four SSK submarines and one Kalvari. By 2022, we will have 18 submarines, of which eight will be indigenous. The most of the Indian conventionally-powered submarines are over 20 years old, almost at the fag end of shelf life. Fig depicts the shelf life of the submarines with the Indian Navy.

The above number are not enough guarding the vast coastline of the country or to be used against enemy forces in case of wartime. Further depleting the operational fleet, six submarines are slated to undergo midlife upgrades and life extensions soon.

Procurement Plan

Understanding that the desired level of combat capability requires a steady inflow of replacements, the Navy was given approval for a comprehensive 30-year submarine-building plan in July 1999 by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which envisaged induction of 12 new submarines by 2012, followed by another 12 to be inducted by 2030. The approved acquisition programme was divided into three groups:

  • Six Scorpene submarines to be acquired under Project 75
  • Additional six submarines to be built under Project 75 (I)
  • Remaining 12 to be constructed indigenously.

All the on-going and also the future submarine procurement programmes are also seen facing massive delays coupled with huge cost escalation.

Project- 75

Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), was to manufacture six Scorpene submarines under technology transfer from Naval Group of France under a 2005 contract worth $3.75 Billion. The first submarine of the class Kalvari joined service in December 2017. The second Scorpene submarine Khanderi launched into the water in January 2017 and completed all trials and is in the final stages of acceptance. The third Karanj which was launched in January 2018 is in an advanced stage of trials and could be ready for induction by year end. The fourth submarine Vela is ready to be launched into the water for trials. The last two submarines Vagir and Vagsheer are in advanced stages of manufacturing on the assembly line.

The delay in delivery by 6 years and cost overrun, which was initially envisaged was Rs. 16,000 crore, went up to Rs. 19,000 core. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2020.

Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine (SSBN)

India's first Strategic Strike Nuclear Submarine (SSBN) INS Arihant was launched on July 26, 2009, and following extensive sea trials it is now is fully operational as on Nov 2018. Built as part of Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project at Visakhapatnam, it is based on the Russian Akula-1 class submarine design. The 6,000-tonne submarine can fire nuclear ballistic missiles up to a range of 3,500 kilometers without getting detected. The Arihant is the first and only such platform.

The development “puts India among a handful of countries having the capability to design, construct and operate SSBNs. India’s nuclear doctrine of ‘no first use’ presupposes that the country will be able to unleash a massive second attack after surviving the first. Such a policy means that the security apparatus has to have the technology platform that can conceal and fire nuclear weapons.

The maritime strike capability has traditionally been seen by the security establishment as the most effective arm to conceal or hide nuclear ability. Nuclear submarines can remain submerged for longer than conventional diesel-electric submarines.  The structure of India's Nuclear Command Authority demands layers of clearances before a decision to strike with a nuclear weapon is taken.

India has got substantial help from Russian engineers to miniaturize the reactor that powers the Arihant. The 100-member crew of the ship has been trained by Russian specialists. Nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarines can remain underwater and undetected for a long time compared to conventional submarines. They can sail closer to the coast of the enemy nation and fire ballistic missiles deep into the territory.India has now become part of an elite club of countries - Russia, the US, China, France, and the UK that possess nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

India in a $3-billion deal with Russia will lease another nuclear attack submarine Chakra III presently being customized and fitted with indigenous communications systems and sensors at Russian shipyard and will be ready by 2025. The Chakra III will be in service for at least 10 years and will replace the Chakra II that was obtained under similar conditions in 2012. It is believed that the lease of the Chakra II, which is to expire in 2022, could be extended for five years till the new vessel gets built and tested.

Project - 75 India

The search for a partner to execute the Project-75 India (P-75I) for 06 conventional submarines began in 2008 when Indian Navy issued the Request for Information (RFI) to international shipbuilding and design yards/firms for the next generation of submarines to be constructed at its shipyards. The RFI stated that the submarine should have the capability of operating in the open ocean and littoral/ shallow waters in dense Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Electronic Warfare (EW) environment and should be able to undertake following missions: -

  • Anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.
  • Supporting operations ashore.
  • ISR missions.
  • Special Forces deployment and mining operations.

After a number of flip flops over the years, the latest push to take the P 75I project forward was initiated with the announcement of the Strategic Partner (SP), Policy as Chapter 7 of DPP 2016, in May 2017.  The acquisition of 06 submarines is now slated under the SP Policy, wherein all the 06 Submarines would be constructed in India by an Indian shipyard, under Transfer of Technology (ToT) from the foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) under an arrangement with the Indian strategic partner. Since the AoN that was accorded earlier had expired a fresh AoN has again been accorded for Rs 40,000 crore  Project 75-I program under the Strategic Partnership model. Russia’s Amur 1650, Swedish A26, German Type 214 and an improved version of the existing Naval Group Scorpene are likely contenders.Project 75(I) will provide a significant boost to submarine design and manufacturing ecosystem in India through a transfer of design, equipment technology, and skill sets.

Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) has been approved to participate in the Strategic Partnership (SP) model and will be one of the Indian co for Rs 40,000 crore bid for Project 75 (I)  along with private sector competitors such as Larsen and Toubro for the mega 'Make in India' project. L&T has experience in the submarine building as they were closely associated with the Arihant Indian nuclear submarine project.

Under Project 75-I, the Indian Navy is to acquire six next-generation diesel-electric submarines (SSK) bigger than the 1800-ton Scorpene class being built for P-75 project. The Navy wants three additional features to improve its capabilities: Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) designed to allow conventional submarines to stay underwater longer than other conventional submarines; the ability to launch land-attack cruise missiles; and enhanced stealth features to reduce noise and vibration and make the vessels harder to detect by sonar. The potential foreign collaborators possibly in the fray and their platform features are as under:-

German HDW Type 214. German Defence Company Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) has offered HDW Type 214 submarine. The submarine combines best-in-class underwater endurance and diving depth. The submarine has a fuel-cell-based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system which is considered as one of the best in the world. As of now, it has no tie-up with an Indian company.

DCNS ‘Scorpene’. France has already been part of the P-75 project. As for Project 75-I, France’s DCNS is offering follow-on to the Scorpene submarine, with MESMA AIP. The DCNS already has a technology tie-up with Pipavav Defence.

Rubin Amur 1650. Russia has offered Rubin Amur 1650 class nonnuclear submarine, designed by Rubin Naval Design Bureau, to India. It has Kristall-27E AIP system. Russia has also confirmed that it will be able to incorporate the Indian-made air-independent propulsion system into the Amur design.

Navantia, Spain-S 80 and Mitsubishi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (MHI and KHI), Japan-Soryu did not Respond to the RFI.

The medium refit and life certification of Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhukesari at Russia's Severodvinsk has been completed at the cost of Rs. 1197 crore. While, indigenous sources/private shipyards can provide most sub-systems, packing all this together in a hull form that achieves contemporary quieting standards will require foreign collaboration for the selected yards.

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