Sources said the finance ministry has asked the defence ministry to 'club' the separate projects to 'draft a single note' for the requisite nod from Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). "The two projects have been languishing for long in the files being exchanged between the two ministries. The government seems serious about fast-track approvals this time", said a source.
The approvals, when they come, will not be a day too soon since India is down to just 13 old diesel-electric submarines, barely half of which are operational at any given time, and a single nuclear-propelled submarine INS Chakra on lease from Russia without any long-range missiles.
It takes at least seven to eight years for the first submarine to roll out once its construction project actually gets underway. The two projects will together entail a cost of well over Rs 1 lakh crore spread over 10-15 years.
Project-75India for the six conventional submarines, armed with both land-attack missiles and air-independent propulsion (AIP) for greater underwater endurance, was granted 'acceptance of necessity' in November 2007, as was reported earlier by TOI.
But the global tender to select the foreign collaborator for it is yet to be even issued. As per the existing plan, the first two submarines will be imported to save time, while three will be constructed at Mazagon Docks (Mumbai), and the sixth at Hindustan Shipyard (Visakhapatnam).
The project to build the six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines, usually without nuclear-tipped missiles), in turn, is to be undertaken at the secretive ship-building centre (SBC) at Vizag. India's first three SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear ballistic missiles) are already being built at the SBC to complete the country's "nuclear weapons triad" the capability to fire nukes from land, air and underwater. The expertise gained in the construction of the SSBNs will help the SSN project, said sources.
The first SSBN, the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, is slated to go for extensive sea trials soon after its miniature 83 mw pressurized light-water reactor, which went 'critical' in August last year, attains 'full power' in another month or so. The second, INS Aridhaman, is also to be 'launched into water' soon with its hull and basic structure ready.
China, incidentally, has five nuclear and 51 conventional submarines. It is poised to induct up to five JIN-class SSBNs, with their new 7,400-km range JL-2 missiles, over the next few years.
India, however, has miserably failed in this arena. It was in 1999 that the CCS had approved a 30-year submarine-building plan, which envisaged induction of 12 new submarines by 2012, followed by another dozen by 2030.
But 15 years later, not a single new submarine has been inducted because of politico-bureaucratic apathy. The first programme, Project-75, was finalized only in 2005 to build six French Scorpene submarines at MDL. It's already running over four years behind schedule, with the first Scorpene now slated for delivery by November 2016 and the other five rolling out thereafter every 8-10 months. Moreover, the Rs 1,800 crore contract to buy 98 heavy-weight torpedoes to arm the submarines is also yet to be inked.