India races to match China, shortlists companies to make submarines

IDD Bureau

India is now racing to match China in adding submarines to its naval  fleet. Almost a decade after it started a project to get six conventional diesel-electric submarines, India approved the short listing of two Indian and five foreign companies, who can be possible partners and make the submarines under a $7 Billion project. 

One of the foreign companies will be finally selected on the basis of technical and financial bids besides the offer on transferring technology or know-how. The foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will be tasked to partner the Indian company under the ‘strategic  partnership model’, a new policy aimed at promoting India as a hub for military equipment  manufacturing.

The submarines will be made in India and are a follow on to the existing lot of six scorpene submarines being made at the Naval Group (formerly DCNS) in collaboration with Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL), Mumbai, a company owned by India’s Ministry of Defence.

The Indian Defence Ministry on Tuesday put out  a statement saying the Defence Acquisition Council, the highest decision making body in the Ministry has “approved shortlisting of Indian Strategic Partners (SP) and the potential Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that would collaborate with SPs to construct six conventional submarines in India.”.

The Indian side did not officially release the names of the short listed companies, however,  sources in the Ministry said, Mumbai-based MDL and Larsen and Turbo (L&T) have been approved as the Indian strategic partners (SP). The latter is a private entity and is engaged in making the hulls of the Arihant Class of Indian Strategic Submarines.

These two companies will now bid separately and with any of the five foreign OEM’s. In the race  among the foreign companies are South Korean company Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering which has pitched in its KSS-3 submarine. The Naval Group of France, which is already involved in the `Scorpene’ submarine under Project-75, is pitching its vessels. Navantia of Spain has offered S-80 called the Issac Peral class. ThysenKrupp  Marine Systems of Germany have offered the Type 218 or the Invincible Class. Rosboronexport of Russia had sent a bid of Rubin Design Bureau for the Amur Class.

India has asked for the boats to have an air independent propulsion (AIP) which will adds to be submergence capabilities allowing it to dive for 12-15 days, much more than the 4-5 days endurance  is existing fleet of Indian conventional subs.

What is the ‘Strategic Partnership Model’

India expects the policy to play a  ‘transformational role’ in building an eco-system in the country, comprising development entities, specialised vendors and suppliers; especially those from the Medium and small scale manufacturing enterprises. The SP Model aims at promoting India as a manufacturing hub for defence equipment, in addition to establishing an industrial and R&D eco-system capable of me the eting the future requirements of the Armed Forces besides giving boost to exports.

Indian submarine action plan of 1999 is years behind schedule.

India needs to correct sagging timelines of its existing submarine plan announced in 1999. It had spoken about having 24 modern submarines by 2030. As off now, just two new Scorpenes ( named Kalvari class  in India) have been commissioned since then besides the INS Arihant Nuclear powered boat.  Another Nuclear powered boat the INS Chakra is on lease from Russia.

Four more of  the Kalvari class are to follow  by 2022, three of these have been launched at sea and are being out-fitted, before sea trials. The  project is running behind schedule by 8 years.

Vela, the fourth of Kalvari class subs was launched at sea for outfitting at Mumbai in May 2019

The decision to short-list Indian and foreign companies for six more submarines is follow on to the Scorpenes or the ‘Kalavari Class’. Indian Navy, as on date, operates 17 submarines include two Kalvari class,  four Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) German-origin, Shishumar-class boats that are in their fourth decade of service. There are also nine Russian Kilo-class boats, some of them older than three decades.

The Russian Kilo class, each at 3076 tonnes, carries torpedoes as primary  weapons. These are of varying ages, between 29 years and 19 years and have been named the ‘Sindhughosh class’. Each has a crew of 70. Completing the fleet of conventional submarines are the four HDW  vessels, each 1850 tonnes having a crew of 40.  These have been given a life-extension refit with more modern sensors and additional weaponry. The vessels are between 35 and 32 years of age.

The numbers — only 17 – are woefully inadequate to protect and dominate a vast sea on either side of the country and also the SLOC’s. Some 97 per cent of Indian  trade is via the SLOC’s in Indian Ocean’s ‘choke points’ – the Straits of Hormuz and the Bab-El-Mandab ( leading  into the Suez Canal) to the west and the Straits of Malacca to the east. 

The two nuclear subs

Apart from the conventional Subs , India operates a SSN and a SSBN. The INS Chakra, a 8140 tonne vessel leased for ten-years from Russia   in 2012, at cost of US $ 920 Million is nuclear powered and is lone submarine in the category of SSN or the Ship Submersible Nuclear. The Russians, under obligations of international arms control treaties,  could not transfer nuclear missiles, it has conventional missiles.  Torpedoes, land attack missiles, anti-submarine missiles and mines.

INS Chakra on commissioning in India. file pic of 2012

The other  is INS Arihant that is SSBN or Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear. It did its first deterrence patrol in November 2018. Three more of these are being made at a super secret facility. The 6,000 tonne vessel carries nuclear warheads with ability to hit targets 3,500 kms away using the missile code named ‘K-4’.

The Chinese threat

A US Department of Defence report ‘Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2019’ talks about a growing threat from China.

“ Modernization of China’s submarine force remains a high priority for the PLA navy. It currently operates four SSBN’s, six nuclear-powered attack submarines SSN’s and 50 conventionally powered attack submarines.The numbers will grow between 65 and 70 submarines by 2020″.

US Department of Defense Report

China continues to increase its inventory of conventional submarines that can launch advanced anti-ship cruise missile  (ASCM). Since the mid-1990s, the PLAN has purchased 12 Russian-built Kilo -class units, eight of these are capable of launching ASCMs. In the past 25 years, Chinese shipyards have delivered 13 Song class  conventional subs and 17 Yuan- class diesel-electric that have air-independent propulsion. A  total of 20 Yuan’s will be in production by 2020.

India needs to watch out for  Beijing’s newest SSBNs the Jin class are like the previous generation of Russian/Soviet vessels. They are 10,000 tonnes and carry lethal ICBM’s, the Julang 2, a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) to hit targets 7,700 kms away, China’s four  operational JIN-class SSBNs represent China’s first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent.

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