The Indian Navy is viewing with concern the likely depletion of the strength of its submarine fleet, in the event of any further delays in beginning the construction of a second line of submarines. This would compound the already delayed acquisition of boats due to the hold-ups in the construction of the first of its six Scorpene submarines.
The navy’s submarine strength is projected to fall by 30 per cent in 2015 and 50 per cent in 2020, at the current pace of the acquisition process.
The Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), which met on Tuesday to discuss the issue of identification of shipyards for the purpose of building the second line of submarines, failed to reach a decision and has delayed the initiation of a process that is anyhow tedious and complicated.
The navy currently operates 16 submarines, of which two are Foxtrot class boats, acquired in 1967 and described by one defense ministry source as ‘museums’. “We’ve already operated these two boats for two and a half times their scheduled lives,” he said, hoping for a decision from the DAC that would prevent further delays in submarine construction.
India has a 30-year plan for acquiring 24 submarines, which was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 1999. The acquisition was divided into three batches, with six Scorpene submarines to be acquired under Project 75, six more submarines with, as yet, undefined specifications to be built under Project 75 (India) and the remaining 12 to be constructed indigenously, under the presumption that by the time construction were to begin on the last batch, India would have acquired the expertise and technology to build the submarines independently.
Although the construction of the six Scorpene submarines was planned for the period 2000-2012, the first of the lot is yet to be completed and has been delayed by around two years. According to current projections, the six boats will not be completed before 2017. “There’s already a delay of ten years. At the current state of affairs, there will be an amplified gap between the required and available fleet strength,” said the source, adding, “Even if the process is initiated now, it could still be a couple of years or more before construction actually begins. That’s why its critical to decide this issue.”
This delay notwithstanding, the navy would like the government to initiate work on Project 75 (India) by identifying shipyards for the construction of the next batch of six submarines. Once the shipyard is identified, the navy will then provide its requirements of the planned vessels after which, the onus will be on the shipyard to search for and tie-up with foreign or domestic collaborators, who can provide the expertise and technology in the construction of the submarines.
The shipyards under consideration are likely to include Mazagaon Docks Limited, Mumbai, Garden Reach Shipbuilders, Kolkata, Hindustan Shipyard Limited in Visakhapatnam, and Cochin Shipyard Limited in Cochin. Larsen and Toubro’s Ennore shipyard near Chennai could also figure as a contender.
The designated shipyard would need to have the infrastructure and expertise to handle such a task, which may require additional investment and time. Of the above, Mazagaon Docks Limited and Hindustan Shipyard Limited are seen as being the stronger players in this regard. But the former is perceived as having its hands full, with the construction of the Scorpenes taking place there.
The navy’s strength of 130 vessels is already under the sanctioned number of 140. Of the 16 submarines, two are Foxtrot class, four HDW submarines and 10 Kilo class boats. The navy has called the present induction rate of three to four vessels ‘inadequate for maintaining (our) present force levels’, according to a statement made earlier this month.