The government is fast-tracking the modernization of equipment with the armed forces and it was “comforting” for the Indian Navy to know that long-pending requirements were now being procedurally cleared.
Stating this, the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Robyn Dhowan told India Strategic (www.indiastrategic.in) in an interview that notwithstanding the delay in the past, various projects, particularly that of the submarines, were on the move now. The construction of six Scorpene submarines at the Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL), for that matter, “has picked up speed” and the navy hopes to get the first one in 2016 and the last by 2020.
He said that the construction was now being monitored at the highest level – at the chief’s level, that is – and that “all major impediments to the construction of
the submarines have been overcome and the pace of construction has been stepped up”.
“There is good news on this front, with the construction of six P-75 submarines at Mazagon Docks Ltd picking up speed” he said, adding: “I expect the first Scorpene submarine to be delivered by Sep 2016, and the entire fleet by 2020.”
The six submarines under Project 75 are being built under a technology transfer agreement with French company DCNS under a contract signed nine years ago in
MDL has set up modern facilities and hi-end computers to make the six submarines, and DCNS has also helped the state-run company in identifying Indian suppliers for progressively increasing the local content. The last two of these submarines could be fitted with an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system being developed by the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), if found suitable. The system is under development at a DRDO facility in western India.
Submarines are required to periodically come up to the surface for air intake to recharge their batteries but an AIP unit can reduce this necessity and enable a boat
stay hidden underwater for longer durations. Timelines, though, depend upon the capability and efficiency of these units.
Admiral Dhowan observed that the navy has “a longer term, comprehensive and ambitious submarine building programme, with a significant indigenous orientation.” The submarine arm, he stressed, is central to the Indian Navy’s capability development plan.
Notably, the government had given clearance in 2012 for a second line of six submarines with AIP capability by issuing the procedural okay, technically called Acceptance of Necessity (AON). That is the first vital step in acquiring any platform or system for any of the three services. But it is only now, in November, that the government finally gave the go-ahead for their construction in Indian yards. This is being done under a programme designated as Project 75 (I).
Initially, the plan was to import two submarines from the selected vendor. Now, it has been decided to make all the six boats in India as part of the government’s
efforts towards creating defence industrial infrastructure within the country.
It may be noted that over the last couple of decades, most of India’s defence modernization plans have suffered for one reason or another, and every time the
government is nearing a decision, mostly motivated allegations spring up, triggering political and bureaucratic hesitation.
However, Admiral Dhowan said that the government had realized the problem and that due attention was now being paid to update naval equipment. “The government is well seized of this issue, and the Indian Navy’s modernisation plans are being progressed on priority.”
“Several projects are now being fast-tracked to help make up for the lost time,” he added.
As for the AIP-equipped submarines, he said that they will be constructed at a suitable Indian yard in collaboration with a foreign collaborator under Transfer of Technology. Now that the government has cleared the proposal, required steps to progress the case are being taken.
Said Admiral Dhowan: “This will be a substantial boost to indigenisation in this critical sector. P-75(I) envisages acquisition of six state-of-the art conventional submarines with high stealth features, Air Independent Propulsion and advanced weapons and sensors.”
Tendering for this fleet should be done soon. Nonetheless, it could be years before the AIP-fitted boats are actually available to the navy.
But he pointed out: “Considering the enormity of the project, in both technological and financial terms, it will be handled expeditiously in accordance with comprehensive guidelines.”
As for the navy’s current fleet of old Soviet and German origin submarines, Admiral Dhowan said that measures were being taken to meet the interim operational needs “by progressing a proposal for medium refit-cum-life certification programme for a few of the older boats, which will take us through till the newer submarines are inducted.”
Asked about India’s nuclear submarine programme, Admiral Dhowan said that harbor trials of various equipment on board Arihant, India’s first indigenous nuclear-propelled and nuclear-armed submarine – designated SSBN in naval parlance Â– are over and “the submarine is being readied for sea trials”.
“I am not saying soon but very soon,” the admiral said optimistically.
The Indian Navy has one nuclear-propelled but not nuclear-armed (SSN) submarine, INS Chakra, on lease from Russia.