By Staff Correspondent
Beginning its sea trials on May 18, the sixth Kalvari-class submarine, Yard 11880, is the last in the Project 75 initiative and is scheduled for delivery to the Indian Navy in early 2024. However, with this contract for six diesel submarines nearing its end, the question arises: what is next for submarine production in India?
The project’s conclusion could leave Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) idle and the workforce underutilized. The subsequent project, involving the construction of next-generation submarines, is currently navigating the intricate process of a submarine tender under the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
Five submarines from Project 75, which began in 2006 intending to build six diesel-electric attack submarines of the Kalvari class based on the Scorpène-class submarine, are already operational within the Indian Navy. The project’s primary focus was to localize construction through technology transfer, fostering an indigenous industrial ecosystem for submarine manufacturing.
As the Scorpène contract is nearing its end, MDL may negotiate a new deal with French firm Naval Group for additional Scorpène-class submarines. Yet, the revised price quoted by the Naval Group is reportedly significantly higher than the original contract, posing a challenge.
Attention now shifts towards Project-75 India (P-75 I), an ambitious plan for the indigenous production of six advanced conventional submarines featuring Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems, advanced missile systems, and torpedoes.
One of the international bidders for P-75I is Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS). However, restructuring TKMS’s parent company and strict German defence export regulations may complicate matters. Also, with the security landscape changing post the Russia-Ukraine war, Germany’s internal politics could further delay the project.
Similarly, the other bidder, Korean submarine manufacturer Hanwha Ocean, faces challenges related to technology transfer under its defence export guidelines.
Spain’s Navantia, another contender, offers complete transfer of technology (ToT), integrating their innovative AIP system known as BEST “Bio-Ethanol Stealth Technology”. Navantia has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with L&T and MDL, both shortlisted for the P75(I) project.
Despite these complications, the project is progressing, with Indian companies L&T and MDL set to submit their final proposals by August 2023. However, there are mounting concerns over the slipping response deadline for P-75I, which has now been pushed back to 2023.
Due to delays, submarine construction, a complex process involving miniaturization and rigorous quality standards, may face additional challenges. Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar has expressed concerns over capability gaps, particularly for the P-75(India) project. This delay also poses a strategic challenge for the Indian Navy in the face of China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
To maintain its operational capacity in the region and in the broader Indo-Pacific, the Indian Navy needs to address its dwindling submarine numbers.