May 26, 2014

Indian Navy hopeful Modi will move on delayed procurements

The Indian Navy (IN) is expectant that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which assumes office on 26 May, will approve the purchase of urgently needed equipment such as heavyweight torpedoes for its under-construction Scorpene submarines and advanced towed array sonars (ATAS) for its warships.

"The navy anticipates that prime minister-designate, Narendra Modi's, new administration will be more receptive to the many gaps in its equipment profile" a three-star IN officer told IHS Jane's .

Naval headquarters, he added, is readying its list of long-delayed procurements to present to the new defence minister.

Following 2010 trials the IN opted to acquire 98 Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei (WASS) Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes over Atlas Elektroniks Sea Hake for its six Scorpene submarines.

The first Scorpene boat, scheduled for commissioning in 2016, will be armed only with MBDA Exocet SM-39 anti-ship missiles following delays in signing the USD300 million deal amid complaints of wrongdoing in the selection process.

IN officials said subsequent Scorpenes, which will be commissioned at 12-14-month intervals by Mazagon Dockyard Limited in Mumbai, would also operate without heavyweight torpedoes unless the BJP government agreed to their immediate procurement.

The MoD's [Ministry of Defence's] administrative delay in acquiring heavyweight torpedoes should never have been allowed to happen, former IN Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta told IHS Jane's. Far too much time is taken by the MoD in booking equipment and placing orders, he added.

In January the MoD reversed the approval by its Defence Acquisition Council to acquire Black Shark torpedoes from WASS, which is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica. This followed the 1 January termination of the EUR750 million (USD764 million) purchase of 12 AW101 helicopters from AgustaWestland, another Finmeccanica company, over corruption charges. The MoD remains undecided on whether to blacklist AgustaWestland or Finmeccanica or both over the 2010 AW101 deal.

IN officers said that proscribing Finmeccanica would seriously jeopardise the Black Shark deal and force a fresh tender. This in turn would delay arming the Scorpenes by several years.

Meanwhile, the purchase of six ATAS systems from Atlas Elektronik for EUR40-50 million for three Delhi-class destroyers and three Talwar-class frigates has been pending since trials in 2010. At the time, the IN had selected Atlas Active Towed Away Sonar (ACTAS) low-frequency sonar over rival models offered by Thales and L3 Communications.

The deal included Atlas transferring technology to the public sector Bharat Electronics Limited in Bangalore to build at least 10 additional ATAS systems to equip the Indian Navy's frontline warships. However, like the Black Shark deal, this programme was hampered by repeated complaints of wrongdoing in the selection process.

An MoD-appointed independent committee rejected the complaints earlier in 2014, but the ministry has since ignored repeated IN requests to sign the ATAS deal.

India's surface combatants are presently making do with locally designed towed passive and hull-mounted sonars that are unable to operate effectively in the warm and shallow waters of the Arabian Sea.

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