New Delhi: Even as the Navy decommissioned INS Sindhudhvaj, a Kilo-class submarine acquired from Russia in 1987, on Saturday, India’s struggle with its three-decade-old plan to shore up under-water capabilities continues.
India is currently left with 15 conventional diesel-electric submarines, seven of which are of the Russian Kilo class.
Under the ambitious 30 year old plan that ends in 2030, India was to build 24 submarines — 18 conventional submarines and six nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) — as an effective deterrent against China and Pakistan.
The current strength, however, is nowhere near the envisaged plan.
Dubbed the ‘Kilo’ class by NATO, India had acquired 8 of the submarines, designated 877 EKM, between 1986 and 1991. Two more were acquired between 1998 and 2000.
The ‘Kilo’ class is the most common conventional submarine in the world, with nearly 60 of them in service with various navies.
Of the 10 that India had, it had lost INS Sindhurakshak, a ‘Kilo’ class submarine, in a fire accident in 2013. Another submarine, INS Sindhuvir, was handed over to the Myanmar Navy in 2020 as part of a bilateral defence collaboration.
Besides the seven Kilo class, India has four Type 209 submarines of German origin and four of the indigenously manufactured Scorpene class of French origin. Two more Scorpene submarines will be delivered to the Indian Navy by 2023 end.
India also has INS Arihant, a nuclear-powered ballistic missile carrying submarine (SSBN). A second submarine of this class, named Arighat was set to be commissioned but there is no clarity on its status.
As a stop-gap arrangement to maintain the minimum deterrence when it comes to submarines, India is carrying out a second medium refit of four Kilo class submarines.
A medium refit is usually done once in a submarine’s 30-year life but the Indian Navy’s decision will add 10 more years to the life of the Kilo class – thereby, arresting the shortfall till new ones are commissioned.
There are multiple plans that the navy is focusing on – Project 75 India, Project 76 and the secretive submarine project.
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Project 75 India
India’s ambitious plans to build six new conventional submarines with Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP) under Project 75 India remains stuck.
The P75I project, which is being pursued under “Strategic Partnership” – to be built in India through a collaboration between a foreign Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and an Indian entity – remains in limbo because multiple foreign companies have chosen to stay away.
The OEMs in contention were Russia’s Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, France’s Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia, South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Swedish firm SAAB.
SAAB was the first to exit from the race in 2019, even before a formal tender was issued, citing “unbalance” in strategic partnership.
The Russians have also expressed their inability to be part of the project, saying that they are willing to go in for a government-to- government deal for joint design and manufacturing of submarines.
The Russians are believed to have also offered six new improved Kilo class submarines to India, deliveries of which it said will be fast tracked, but the Indian Navy is not so keen.
The other OEMS in contention, including the French and the German firms, are also said to have expressed their inability to be part of the project.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the French have expressed their inability because the tender issued by the Request for proposal (RFP) calls for a proven AIP system already in service. Only the Germans and the South Koreans meet this requirement.
The sources, however, said the Germans have also expressed their inability because they feel that the strategic partnership is skewed in favour of the Indian entity which they have the majority share in the joint venture. In contrast, the OEM is to be held responsible for delivery and even shortfalls.
Such has been poor response that the Navy has gone ahead and extended the date for submission of bids to end of December this year from the already extended date of June end.
The foreign companies have sought tweaking of the strategic partnership as well as removal of the clause for an in service AIP system.
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While India has managed to design and build its own nuclear submarine with help from the Russians, the country has never designed or manufactured a conventional submarine.
Sources said that the Naval Design Bureau is working on a conventional diesel-electric submarine with AIP technology that will be the future of India’s submarine plans.
“There are a number of factors that go into designing a submarine. Project 76 will be an in-house project. We are now focusing on the systems and the technology that the submarine must have and are designing the submarine around that,” a source said.
Another source said that the design phase should be completed in another year and half.
India already operates the INS Arihant, which comes under the Strategic Forces Command and not the direct purview of the navy.
According to defence sources, the Narendra Modi government is keen on more nuclear powered submarines (SSNs) which operate silently and remain under water for longer durations.
As per the plan, India is to build six nuclear powered submarines. The country will also be getting a leased Russian nuclear submarine by 2025 at the earliest.
India has been leasing Akula class Russian nuclear submarines for years for training and familiarisation process.
ThePrint had reported in 2019 that India and Russia have signed a US$3 billion deal for the lease of a third nuclear-powered attack submarine — Chakra III.
The Chakra II has already returned to Russia. The original INS Chakra initially came to India on a three-year lease starting in 1988.
The Chakra series are used to train crews for India’s own fleet of SSBNs. India’s first indigenously built SSBN, INS Arihant, entered service in 2016. A second, Arighat, was launched in 2017.
Two more SSBNs are under construction at the Shipbuilding Centre in Visakhapatnam.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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