By: Neeraj Rajput
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached France on his two days of a hectic but ‘strategic’ tour. Before his ‘Air India-One’ plane could land at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, back in Delhi, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) gave acceptance to procure three additional Scorpene class submarines from France.
France has already helped India design and develop 06 Scorpene class submarines, which now form the ‘sword arm’ of the Indian Navy fleet.
Besides witnessing the annual Bastille Day parade at Avenue des Champs-Élysées of Paris, where he is the ‘Guest of Honor on 14th July (Friday), PM Modi will have a friendly’ discussion with French President Emmanuel Macron on matters related to ‘defense, energy space, new technology and more.’
This year, both countries are celebrating 25 years of ‘Strategic Partnership’–and this bilateral meeting holds importance for both countries.
When PM Modi’s flight was en route to Paris, MoD announced granting “AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) for procurement of three (03) additional Scorpene submarines under Buy (Indian) category, which will be constructed by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL).”
MoD’s apex procurement body, Defense Acquisition Council (DAC) under Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, gave the required AoN for the procurement of these three additional French subs, which India critically needs in view of the depleting submarine fleet while Chinese PLA (Navy) has been increasing its subs exponentially.
MoD, in an official statement, further said, “The procurement of additional submarines, with higher indigenous content, will not only help in maintaining required force level and operational readiness of the Indian Navy but also create significant employment opportunities in the domestic sector. It will also help the MDL in further enhancing its capability and expertise in submarine construction.”
“India needs subs not only to generate employment opportunities for the employees of MDL but also because the flagship project P75I is yet to take off,” says an MoD source.
MDL, the public sector defense unit (shipyard) of MoD, is based in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India, which also houses the Western Naval Command (headquarters) of the Indian Navy.
Western Naval Command has the responsibility of safeguarding the whole of the Arabian Sea, right from the southernmost tip of Lakshadweep to the Persian Gulf beside the IMBL (International Maritime Boundary Line) adjoining Pakistan.
The Arabian Sea has seen much Chinese activity in the recent past, with PLA (Navy) ships and submarines frequenting the Karachi port. PLA ships navigate in the Arabian Sea to further their influence in the garb of anti-piracy patrols. China is building eight submarines for Pakistan.
But this has kept the ‘sword-arm,’ the flotilla of the Indian Navy western fleet ‘quite busy.’ “This Chinese threat in the whole Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is a reality that’s why the Indian Navy needs new submarines as soon as possible to replace the aging (subs) fleet,” says Commodore Anil Jai Singh (Retd), Vice President of Indian Maritime Foundation (IMF) while speaking to EurAsian Times.
MDL, in collaboration with the Naval Group of France, has constructed six scorpene class submarines–05 of which are already commissioned in the Indian Navy while the six are undergoing sea trials these days.
With the construction of all these six subs, viz INS Kalvari, Khanderi, Karanj, Vela, Vagir, and Vagsheer, MDL’s sub-unit will now be without any work. “The employees, technicians, and engineers who were trained in submarine-building for Project 75 (for 06 Scorpene subs) can go unexploited if MDL doesn’t have any other major submarine project. Because of this reason, 03 add-on submarines have been ordered from France “, explains Commodore Singh, who is a veteran submariner of the Indian Navy.
Though MDL has signed a contract with the Thyssenkrupp group of Germany to manufacture 06 stealth submarines under Project 75I, it’s still not sure whether it will get the actual contract because Navantia Group of Spain has also once again jumped into the fray by announcing to bid for Project 75 (India), which is worth 40 thousand crores ($5 billion).
Under Project 75 (I), 06 submarines fitted with AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) technology are to be manufactured in India.
For the ‘Make in India’ flagship project of PM Modi, MoD had issued an RFP (request for proposal) to two (02) domestic shipyards— MDL & L&T– for Project 75-I in Jan ’20.
Under the maiden ‘Strategic Partnership’ model, these 02 domestic shipyards could collaborate with either of the five foreign OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). The MoD itself had given the name of 05 OEMs viz Thyssenkrupp (Germany), Navantia (Spain), Daewoo (South Korea), Naval Group (France), and Rubin Design Bureau of Russia.
While Rubin Group and Naval Group, which manufacture Scorpene class submarines, have quit the project citing the non-availability of AIP technology, three foreign OEMs are still in the fray.
Navantia and Daewoo still have time to respond to MoD’s RFI till next month (Aug 2023). But even then, the project will take at least 1-2 years before it actually starts constructing the AIP-fitted stealth submarines.
“Project 75 (I) will take at least two years before it’s inked. The first submarine under the strategic partnership could join the (Indian) Navy not before 10-12 years down the line,” says Commodore Singh. “That’s the reason India has ordered add-on Scorpene subs from France. This will not only generate employment opportunities for MDL and others but also the requisite maritime force level”, he further adds.
India presently has 17 submarines in its naval fleet, including the 05 Scorpene class (plus one is under sea trials), one indigenous nuclear (SSBN) INS Arihant, 07 Kilo Class (Russian) conventional subs, and 04 HDW or Shishumar class (German) diesel submarines.
But both the HDW and Kilo-class submarines are now completing 40 years of their services as both were inducted in the Navy in the mid-80s
“As such, they (Kilo and HDW) need refit or retirement. In the next decade or so, both Germans and Russian class subs will decommission in phases, so you need more subs”, explains Commodore Singh.
India had recently transferred one Sindhughosh (Kilo) class submarine to the neighboring Myanmar navy. While another Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhudhvaj was decommissioned last year, another Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhurakshak met a fatal accident in 2014 off Mumbai port.
As per MoD’s long perspective naval plan, India needs 28-30 submarines to act as net security providers in the IOR. And as such, 03 more Scorpene class submarines can really boost the maritime operational capability of the Indian Navy in the near future.
In the same way as in the 19th century, the then Sikh ruler of the North-West Indian subcontinent, Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839), had inducted French military commanders of the erstwhile Napoleon’s army to modernize his army.
With 12 French commanders in his ‘Khalsa Army,’ Maharaja Ranjit Singh was able to conquer unbeatable Afghanistan (for the first and last time by any foreign ruler).
- Neeraj Rajput is a Senior Indian War Correspondent
- Please email us at etdesk (at) eurasiantimes.com
- The author tweets at @neeraj_rajput