Why Is Indian Navy Desperately Looking For Lithium-Ion Batteries For Its Submarines?

Indian Navy is on the lookout for the production of a lithium-ion battery system for its submarines, which would ensure more endurance and higher underwater speed.

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Currently, the Indian Navy’s diesel-electric submarines are using lead-acid batteries, which put constraints on underwater speed and endurance. Lead-acid batteries, which have been in use for over 100 years globally, need to be charged more frequently.

In addition, while countries across the globe have the air-independent propulsion (AIP) system in their new submarines, India’s Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is still working on an indigenous AIP.

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Japan has become the first country to use lithium-ion batteries in its submarines. In October, the country launched the submarine Taigei, powered by lithium-ion batteries.

India’s ministry of defense recently released an RFI (request for information) seeking details of lithium-ion batteries. Indian Navy veteran Commodore Anil Jai Singh has told EurAsian Times that India is nowhere near building its own lithium-ion batteries for submarines.

“We are trying to find more about the technology and it will take partnership with another country to develop it at home,” Singh says.

Talking about the advantages of the new lithium-ion batteries, he says that the technology has overcome the limitations of both AIP and lead-acid batteries as it gives more endurance at high speed. They can store a greater charge. They are smaller in size, which will save space and reduce weight, he adds.

The disadvantage of lead-acid batteries is the amount of charge they could hold, limiting the endurance and speed of the submarine because the faster it goes, the more quickly the batteries discharge.

On the other hand, the AIP allowed the submarine to stay underwater for a  longer period, as much as up to 15 days. The submarines with AIP don’t have to come up frequently, but operating at slow speed remained a limitation.

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The Indian Navy veteran also highlights that the cost is a major factor in the lithium-ion batteries. He says that Japanese lithium-ion batteries cost two and a half times more than the AIP. TheDrive reported that Japan had constructed a standard Soryu-class boat for $488 million earlier, but the lithium-ion subvariant cost $608 million.

However, the use of lithium-ion batteries comes with its own limitations too. The use of lithium-ion makes the submarines prone to deadly fires due to combusting, generation of a lot of heat, and toxic fumes, according to experts. Singh says that if Japan has launched the submarine in the sea, then it must have conducted tests to avoid any such accidents.

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Other countries like Russia, Germany are also experimenting with lithium-ion batteries. South Korea is one such country that is experimenting with both the AIP and lithium-ion batteries to increase endurance and underwater speed.

Since 2019, India has been engaging with lithium-rich countries such as Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina for wide-scale commercial use of the mineral as it is also used in electrical vehicles, space launchers, solar panels, mobile phones, laptops, and hi-tech military platforms.

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