New Delhi: Twenty-one years after it was first envisaged, the defence ministry Friday cleared the issuance of the formal tender for the Project 75 India (P75I), under which six new conventional submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) systems are to be built.
The decision was taken by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC).
Incidentally, it came on a day when pictures of India’s lone nuclear attack submarine (SSN) — Chakra — which was on lease from Russia, came out on social media making its way back to its country of origin.
Talking about the Rs 43,000 crore project, sources in the defence establishment said that since the programme is being pursued under a strategic partnership, the Request for Proposal (RFP) will be issued to selected Indian shipyards and they will then tie up with the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and bid.
The defence ministry had earlier appointed a high-powered committee to assess eight Indian shipyards and select the ones eligible for the project.
Two Indian shipyards — state-run Mazagon Dockyard Limited (MDL) and private firm Larsen & Toubro (L&T) — were finally selected.
The OEM’s in contention are Russia’s Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau, Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, France’s Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering. Swedish firm SAAB had pulled out from the race.
“We have promulgated our requirements and specifications which will be part of the RFP that will be issued to the two Indian shipyards. It will be their responsibility to tie up with the foreign firm and submit their bids for the project,” a senior naval officer, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
It was not yet clear if the Indian shipyards can submit multiple bids and whether one OEM can tie up with both the domestic firms.
The defence ministry in a statement said this is a landmark approval, being the first case processed under the Strategic Partnership model.
This would be one of the largest ‘Make in India’ projects and will serve to facilitate faster and more significant absorption of technology and create a tiered industrial ecosystem for submarine construction in India, it said.
“With accord of this approval, the country will be enabled to achieve its 30-year Submarine construction programme envisioned by the Government to acquire national competence in submarine construction and for the Indian industry to independently design and construct submarines in India,” the statement noted.
If all goes according the plan, it will take another 10 years for the first submarine to be inducted
P75I part of India’s 30-year-old submarine plan
The P75I is part of India’s 30-year-old submarine building plan that ends in 2030. Under this, India had to build 24 submarines — 18 conventional submarines and six nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) — as an effective deterrent against China and Pakistan.
In 2016, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had said that the submarine plan should continue till 2050 and that India should look to build more than 24 such vessels.
P75I was first cleared in 2007 but no further movement could be achieved on it. It is only in February 2019 that the defence ministry gave it a fresh “Acceptance of Necessity”.
Russia has pitched govt-to-govt deal
Even as it will participate in the P75I tendering process, Russia has also pitched for a government-to-government contract for joint designing and building of a completely new class of submarines.
Russia wants to use its new Lada class submarines (its export version is called Amur), being built by the Admiralty Shipyard, as the prototype for the design and construction of the new submarines.
In 2019, Russia’s biggest design bureau for conventional submarines — the Rubin Design Bureau — had said that there was no submarine in the world that matches all the specifications laid down by the Indian Navy.
Incidentally, the Admiralty Shipyard has supplied 16 submarines to India including the first the country ever operated — the Foxtrot class of submarines — which were inducted in 1966.
Chakra on its way back to Russia
Meanwhile, sources confirmed that the Chakra is on its way back and is being escorted by a Russian destroyer and a tanker. The lease for the Chakra got over earlier this year.
However, India and Russia had, in 2019, signed a $3 billion deal for the lease of a third SSN — Chakra III — which is likely to be in Indian waters by 2025 at the earliest.
While both India and Russia were trying to work out a possible extension of the Chakra II, it did not materialise because of cost and technical aspects. The Chakra is said to have had some major repairs over the last few years because of which sailing was limited.
The original INS Chakra initially came to India on a three-year lease that began in 1988. Chakra II was inducted in 2012.
The Chakras were leased to train crews for India’s own fleet of ballistic missile firing submarines (SSBNs). India’s first indigenously built SSBN, the INS Arihant, entered service in 2016. A second, the INS Arighat, was launched in 2017 and is expected to enter service soon.