India's Defense Minister A. K. Antony approved a new line of submarines -- Project 75(I) -- to be constructed in India at a cost of $11 billion. Our colleague Manu Sood, editor of the Indian defense website 8ak.in, interviewed Bhupinder Yadav, who heads a small group of retired ex-servicemen at a defense and aerospace consulting company, Q-tech Synergy, to learn more.
8ak: How many submarines do the Indian Navy plan to have?
Yadav: The Indian Navy proposes to have a mix of twenty-four nuclear and conventional submarines of the SSK type. With six Scorpene and a further six Project-75(I) , the remaining 12 subs will be of an indigenous design.
The Indian navy is also planning to build micro-submarines for its strategic operations. An RFP was issued in Nov 2009 to Indian shipyards including Hindustan Shipyards Limited, ABG and Pipavav shipyards, Larsen & Toubro and state-owned Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL). Indian Navy is planning to get five of these vessels at a cost of about $80 million but the inductions can be doubled later on.
8ak: Why is the price almost US$2 billion per submarine whereas strategypage reports US$350 for an AIP submarine?
Yadav: The 2005, Scorpene diesel submarines deal was signed, with an option for six more and extensive technology transfer agreements was reported as being in excess of $4 billion. The Proj 75(I) is a $10.7 billion project for building six vessels. These will be new submarines and not the Scorpene, and it will be a bigger submarine with specific features with key differentiator being a new class of missiles, having some features from the HDW Type 214, the Russian Amur class, the Italian Fincantieri S-1000 in collaboration with Rubin of Russia. The extra cost could be for the new design that will allow the incorporation of future technologies, stealth features, missiles, transfer of technology, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and land attack capabilities.
8ak: Why did India not go in for a nuclear submarine instead of diesel electric?
Yadav: The utility of conventional diesel-electric submarines with the introduction of AIP (air-independent propulsion) systems like the French company DCNS' MESMA (Module d'Energie Sous-Marine Autonome) and German fuel cells, the duration they can stay underwater can be increased substantially. They also have the added advantages of being smaller and cheaper than nuclear submarines. Another reason could have been the recent accident on submarines both in Russia and India.
8ak: Why are others like Fincanteri, BAE Systems and US manufacturers not in the deal?
Yadav: RFI was sent to French DCNS, Spanish Navantia, Russian Rubin, Italy's Fincantieri and German HDW (now owned by Thyssenkrup). Great Britain and America only build nuclear submarines and not diesel electric.
8ak: The RFI was written up a couple of years ago, so why the delay?
Yadav: RFI was issued on 27 October 2008 for six diesel-electric attack submarines to be built in Indian shipyard, public or private, with special emphasis on full transfer of technology. The subs were to be equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) boosting their operational capabilities to have high degree of stealth, land-attack capability and ability to incorporate futuristic technologies. Since this will be a new type of submarine, the details and processing of project of this size does take time. Beside 3 reasons which delayed the project.
- Some stray thoughts why not go for nuclear submarines, which has its own advantage and disadvantages such as vastly improved range and speeds, but are noisy hence no stealthy operations.
- Time was also wasted on Pull and Push for this crucial programme by the public or private sector. Navy pressing to opt for a shipyard other than the Mazagon Docks, which has its hands full and has been delaying most of the projects.
- Some friendly countries have been trying to put pressure that the additional submarine be procured from them. Hence the delay in RFP.
Yadav: Public sector shipyards like Mazgaon dock are running at full capacity and behind schedule. L&T's excellent performance in the construction of the nuclear submarine and smaller submarine projects has given the Navy and the ministries the confidence in the private sector's ability to deliver quality vessels, systems and on deliver as per schedule. A minimum of one submarine will be built at a private shipyard and a some sub-systems will be supplied by the private sector boosting indigenous capabilities.