It is considered an outsider in the race to bag the Indian navy's contract for a new generation, long endurance conventional submarine but Russia maintains it is a strong contender as it will soon have the Air Independent Propulsion.
It was the lack of the AIP, which drastically increases the capability of a submarine to stay underwater by reducing dependence on compressed oxygen to burn fuel, that was seen as a disadvantage to Russia's participation in the navy's Project 75I to procure six new generation conventional submarines. Conventional submarines can stay underwater for a few days but those equipped with AIP can stay submerged for more than three weeks, giving the operator advantage in terms of stealthy operations and sneak attacks.
Russian designers said the system will be ready by 2016 and may even be fitted on Russian vessels by 2018. "The AIP is no longer a stumbling block to our participation in the P 75I," Andrey Baranov, deputy director general of the Rubin Design Bureau, said. "We will have a prototype of the system ready and in place by 2016."
Russia has offered to help the DRDO develop an indigenous version of the AIP, Baranov said and stressed that India was unlikely to find other partners who would share such critical technology.
"The main difference between our system and others in the world is that we do not store hydrogen onboard but generate it. We also use standard diesel that the submarine has," Rubin Design Bureau chief designer Igor Molchanov said. This, he said, makes the Russian AIP stealthier than the French and frees it of the need for shore-based hydrogen generating facilities which are required by the German system.
Both the French DCNS and the German HDW are strong competitors for the P 75I contract, which will be one of the largest global tenders in terms of money. There has, however, been delay in floating a tender though the decision to procure the submarines — to restore India's edge in underwater operations in the region —was taken years ago.
The correspondent is in Russia at the invitation of the United Shipbuilding Corp.