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NEW DELHI: India is yet to get cracking on its long-pending project to build six advanced stealth submarines, with land-attack cruise missiles and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, over a decade after the initial approval from the defence ministry.
Defence sources, in fact, say the acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the around Rs 70,000 crore ($10.9 billion) diesel-electric submarine project called “Project-75 India” is set to expire once again on February 6 without “any concrete progress” being made to select the Indian shipyard and the foreign collaborator for it.
Though the AoN for the project, which was first accorded way back in November 2007, will be extended, it must be remembered that it will take another seven to eight years for the first submarine to roll out after the final contracts are actually inked.
This is yet another grim reminder of the sheer lack of long-term defence planning and execution to build military capabilities in tune with the country’s expanding strategic objectives. No major “Make in India” project in defence has actually kicked off in the last four years, with at least six mega plans worth over Rs 3.5 lakh crore stuck at different stages, as was first reported by TOI in October last year.
Saddled with 13 old conventional submarines, only half of them operational at any given time, the Navy however has some reason to cheer this week. The third of the six French Scorpene submarines being built under the ongoing Rs 23,652 crore “Project-75” at Mazagon Docks will be “launched” into water on January 31.
The 1,565-tonne submarine, which will be christened INS Karanj, will follow her sisters INS Kalvari, which was commissioned last December, and INS Khanderi. While INS Khanderi is slated for commissioning in mid-2018 after finishing her sea trials, INS Karanj will follow by early-2019. Though all the six Scorpenes were initially to be delivered by 2017 under the contract inked in 2005, the last one is now slated for induction by June 2020.
Project-75 India, which has been stuck in general politico-bureaucratic apathy and a series of expert committees and task-forces, of course is yet to be even finalised. Four ship-builders, Naval Group-DCNS (France), ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (Germany), Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau (Russia) and Saab Kockums (Sweden), have responded to the request for information (RFI) issued for the project in July last year.
But the RFI to shortlist the Indian “strategic partner” or shipyard is yet to be even issued. Consequently, the “marriage” or the eventual down-selection of the Indian shipyard with the foreign collaborator is still nowhere on the horizon.
A worried Navy, in the interim, has pushed for the over Rs 5,000 crore “life extension and refit” of four existing Sindhughosh-class (Russian Kilo) and two Shishumar-class (German HDW) submarines beyond their operational life of 25 years. The first one, INS Sindhukesari, is slated to return from Russia after its ongoing Rs 1,197 crore refit by the end of this year.
While the second one, INS Sindhuraj, is also being refitted in Russia, the other four (Sindhuratna, Sindhughosh, Shishumar and Shankush) will undergo the process in Indian shipyards. “It will take four-five years for all the six to complete their refits,” said a source.
Overall, India needs at least 18 diesel-electric submarines as well as six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and four nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs). But the Navy is making do with just one new and 13 old conventional submarines, and one SSBN (INS Arihant) and SSN (INS Chakra) each as of now.
China, in sharp contrast, has over 56 submarines, which include five advanced JIN-class SSBNs armed with 7,400-km range JL-2 missiles. Pakistan, in addition to its four to five diesel-electric submarines, is now on course to induct eight more stealth submarines from China.