In some much sought relief for the country’s silent service, the Indian Navy has heralded the beginning for the multi-billion dollar Program – 75 India (P-75 I) by floating a global RFI (Request for Information). With this, the navy’s hunt for six conventional submarines to ramp up its capabilities in the IOR has taken definitive shape after years of successive delays.
Submarines, which play a pivotal role in both sea denial and power projection missions, have remained the need of the hour for Indian forces as they gear up to challenge the increasing Chinese naval presence in the lucrative Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which for years has been considered its own backyard by India.
The RFI, which has been floated within months of the introduction of the SP (Strategic Partnership) Model, has been forwarded to at least six global maritime warfare solution providers, who have themselves previously designed and manufactured advanced submarines.
According to sources the RFI has been received by Naval Group of France, Navantia based out of Spain, German’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Saab’s subsidiary Kockums Naval Solutions based out of Sweden and the Japanese joint consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation.
The navy through the RFI has indicated that the submarine on offer should be capable of operating in Open Ocean, shallow and littoral waters against dense Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Electronic Warfare (EW) threats. The submarine according to the requirements of the navy should be capable of mounting both anti-surface and anti-submarine operations besides supporting ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and Special Forces operations.
These companies, which have in the past provided India with several revolutionary naval technologies, will now make detailed technical presentations to the MoD regarding their package and their capabilities in executing the project in lieu with Indian shipyards. Through the RFI the navy intends to gather the requisite technical details of the submersible platforms on offer and according to naval officials the navy has requested for details about the maximum diving depth, operating range and the endurance in multiple operational modes.
France’s Naval Group (formerly DCNS Groups) leads the fray with its Scorpene-class submarines as the platforms are already under construction in India’s Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) under Program – 75 (P-75) and the Indian shipyard has gained all requisite technical knowledge base for executing the P-75I deal. Trailing the Scorpene submarines are the ThyssenKrupp designed Type- 214 and Russian origin Amur-class Diesel-Electric submarines.
The navy through the RFI has also requested the companies to submit detailed presentations regarding their willingness to part with sensitive technology under the Transfer of Technology (ToT) clause, which itself is a key component in the P-75I deal. It is this very point that Saab and Navantia plan to utilise to level the playfield with Naval Group and ThyssenKrupp.
Under P75I, worth well over INR 60,000 crore, the navy is set to acquire six conventional submarines equipped with highly advanced AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) technology. These AIP units act as auxiliary power units providing the submarines with increased operational flexibility by increasing their stealth capabilities. In line with the government’s Make in India initiative, all the six submarines are to be built locally in India by an Indian shipyard in consultation with the selected OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).
The navy’s submarine wing, which had for years marked the P-75 I deal as an exigent need, has welcomed the floating of a RFI for the program, but, caution is in the wind as this is not for the first time that a RFI has been floated. The RFI itself is one of the most primitive steps in the long drawn acquisition process and it will be several years before a formal deal is concluded for these submarines. Nonetheless, experts believe that the RFI comes as a boost to the navy’s preparedness status in guarding the country’s maritime interests.
Successive reports by several fact finding committees had raised alarms regarding the navy’s capabilities in guarding the vulnerable IOR (Indian Ocean Region), given the fact that the force has only 14 aging submarines at its disposal. Acquisition programs drawn up under the 30-year submarine construction plan and the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) 2012-27 had all but failed to mature over the years. The P-75 I acquisition program itself was drawn up by the navy in the late 2000s to supplement the now delayed Program – 75, under which the force is set to acquire six Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines.
Even though it will at least be another decade before the first of the submarines under the P-75 I program can be inducted to the force, naval experts believe that the eventual addition of the Scorpene submarines will ramp up the navy’s capabilities.