Frustrated with seven years of debilitating delay in even kicking off the process to select a foreign collaborator to help make new-generation stealth submarines, the Navy has junked its long-standing demand for getting two of the six such vessels directly from aboard.
Defence ministry sources said Navy has now agreed that all the six new submarines, armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, will be constructed in India with foreign collaboration under 'Project-75-India'.
The major decision dovetails into the Modi government's thrust on building a strong indigenous defence-industrial base with stepped-up private sector participation. The Arun Jaitley-led defence acquisitions council last month, for instance, scrapped the long-pending import of 197 light utility helicopters, holding they would be made here under the 'Buy and Make Indian' category to encourage the domestic private industry.
The approved P-75I plan till now was that the first two submarines would be imported to save time, given the country's rapidly-ageing and depleting underwater combat arm, with the next three being constructed at Mazagon Docks (Mumbai) and one at Hindustan Shipyard (Visakhapatnam) with technology transfer from the foreign company eventually selected.
But this will change now. With the Rs 23,562 crore construction of six French Scorpene submarines under Project-75 running four years behind schedule at MDL, the defence establishment could well turn to a private shipyard for execution of P-75I.
Moreover, the long delay in launching P-75I, which was granted "acceptance of necessity" way back in November 2007, will lead to some cost escalation from the initial estimate of around Rs 50,000 crore.
The import of the first two submarines and the selection of the Indian shipyard to make the other four has for long been the bone of contention, with the file still being tossed between the finance and defence ministries. This despite India being down to just 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines, with only half of them operational at present.
Once the global tender or RFP (request for proposal) for P-75I is issued, it will take at least three years to first select the foreign collaborator and then finalize the project with it. It will thereafter take another seven to eight years for the first submarine to roll out.
The Krishnamurthy panel, one of the three committees which examined the matter, had held that MDL among the defence shipyards had the "capability" to take on P-75I, while L&T was the only private one to have the "potential" for it. But that was some years ago. The RFP, when it is issued, will go to entities like DCNS (France), HDW (Germany), Navantia (Spain) and Rosoboronexport (Russia), among others, who will have to tie up with an Indian shipyard for the project.
The Navy, meanwhile, is keeping its fingers crossed that there are no more delays in the Scorpene project, under which the first submarine will now be inducted in September 2016, with the other five following at 9-10 months intervals each.Last month, the defence ministry also approved the Rs 4,800 crore mid-life upgrade and life-extension of four Kilo or Sindhughosh-class (Russian) submarines and two HDW or Shishumar-class (German) ones. While two of the Kilo-class submarines will be upgraded in Russia, the other two will follow suit at Mumbai naval dockyard. The two HDW submarines, in turn, will be upgraded at MDL with the German company's help. - Times of india