The Indian Government, through the introduction of the SP Model has paved the way for the country’s armed forces to surge ahead with their modernization plans. The Indian Navy, which stands in-charge of guarding the country’s waters and its larger maritime interests, within days of the introduction of the SP Model set course for initiating the country’s biggest ever defense equipment acquisition program by issuing a global RFI for the much delayed Program – 75I.

The RFI, which was introduced in July, 2017 has attracted the interest of at least four global manufacturers, who have had experience in building these mean machines. These maritime warfare solution providers have already replied to the MoD regarding their offers for P – 75I.

Drawn up by the Navy for acquiring six diesel-electric submarines to augment the platforms under Program – 75, P-75I to date remains to the biggest yet acquisition deal floated by the country. The Indian Navy, which had time and again reported that underwater combatants remain the need of the hour to neutralise the increasing Chinese naval presence in the region, had listed the P-75I deal as an exigent need.

India’s silent service remains cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the RFI and hopes that it is not retracted as done in the previous two occasions. When the MoD had floated the RFI for the P-75I deal twice in the past, at least five global maritime warfare solution providers had evinced interest to supply India with their latest underwater combatants.

A Shishumar-class Diesel-Electric submarine of the Indian Navy; Courtesy – Indian Navy.

Technical Requisites Specified in the RFI

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.

Further, the Navy 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.

Submersible Platforms Offer to the Indian Navy

Several sources within the Ministry of Defense (MoD) have revealed that at least four manufacturers have replied to the RFI. While Naval Group of France, German’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Saab’s subsidiary Kockums Naval Solutions based out of Sweden have aired their interest in participating for the tender worth well over INR 60,000 crore. The Japanese joint consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation and Spain’s Navantia is yet to confirm their bids.

Companies which have already responded positively are now preparing to break ground for the deal by making elaborate technical presentations to the MoD and to the navy regarding their platform’s capabilities and their offers to India.

French based Naval Group (formerly DCNS Group) is known to be offering a highly advanced, stealth enabled and AIP equipped variant of the Scorpene-class submarine. Naval group, which is currently working with India’s state-run Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) under P-75 deal to supply the Indian Navy with six Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines, is optimistic that the commonality clause between the P-75 and P-75 I deal will play a crucial role in the selection of the OEMs.

According to Naval Group executives, the selection of the AIP equipped Scorpene submarines will prove to be an extremely cost effective option for India as there is a readily available matured vendor base for the program. Besides, MDL, the lead builder and integrator, itself has acquired substantial technology in not only manufacturing but also in designing the stealth submarines.

Naval Group has on several occasions said that the already existing production line established for Program – 75 at MDL’s premises in Mumbai can be carried forward for P-75I with very minimal upgrades. The company claims that this will not only drastically cut down initial set-up costs but will also reflect in the future MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) and life cycle costs.

A Kalvari-class submarine being towed in Mumbai docks; Courtesy – Naval Group.

Mr. Bernard Buisson, MD, Naval Group India speaking to Life of Soldiers about movement in the P-75 I deal said “Naval Group would look forward to the Strategic Partner selected by the Government of India. Naval Group is in all ways, maintaining its dialogue with Indian Navy for future warships and submarines in order to support them with best technical solutions.”

Elaborating about his company’s offer to India, he said, “On P-75I, we believe that we would be in a position to propose an advanced submarine meeting the requirements in terms of operation and indigenous content. We also believe the “Make In India” P75 program with its important indigenous content could be a good template, which could be used successfully for P75I by adding the additional functions or performances required by Indian Navy.”

On the technical front, the Scorpene submarines remain to be one of the most advanced and stealthiest underwater combatants on offer to the country. These submarines, which are in service with at least three navies, are favored submersible platforms for operations in the warm tropic and littoral waters. With highly advanced combat management and platform management systems, the Scorpene submarines are extremely efficient platforms for mounting both Anti Surface and Anti Submarine Warfare operations.

The Scorpene submarines are expected to receive stiff competition from the Type-214 and Amur-class diesel-electric submarines manufactured by ThyssenKrupp and Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau respectively.  German based ThyssenKrupp has indicated that it will be carrying forward the previous ToT offers it had made for the P-75 deal and has claimed that the company stands ready to part with classified technologies including the complex AIP technology. With proven technology, the Type-214 submarines, which have been developed by HDW around the Type-212 platforms, threaten to torpedo Naval Group’s lead.

India has also reportedly shown interest in the Amur-1650 class submarine. Being offered by Russia’s Rubin Naval Design Bureau, as the platform features a high degree of commonality with the Kilo-class submarines, which serve as the backbone of India Navy’s underwater force. These submarines, which have been designed around the Lada-class submarines, the company claims will suite Indian Navy’s operational requirements. Russia, a trusted and time tested partner of India, has indicated that it would be willing to transfer the technology to Indian shipyards under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

Even though India had forwarded the RFI to the Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation, the company is believed to have not aired any interest in the tender till date. The Soryu-class submarines, which participated against Naval Group and ThyssenKrupp designs in Australia’s SEA-1000 program, feature some of the most advanced combat and platform management technologies. Japan has, however, remained reluctant to offer its defense hardware to other countries, even though the country lifted a self-imposed export early last year.

Navy’s decision to include submarines undergoing trials and under-construction for the P-75 I program has brought cheers to Kockums Naval Solutions, a fully owned subsidiary of Saab. The Swedish based manufacturer, which recently took over TKMS AB (former Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems AB), has offered it’s A-26 submarines, which is currently being constructed for the Swedish Navy.

Saab claims the A-26s will be the most stealthiest and silent conventional submarine to have ever entered service with any naval force. Executives of the company speaking to Life of Soldiers said that at the core of Saab’s offer to India are unconditional technology transfer that will not only equip India with submarines but an entire eco-system to handle future naval projects. Saab’s lucrative ToT offer to arm Indian shipyards and private manufacturers with critical naval technology gives the company some breathing space in the high stakes tender.

An artistic impression of the New Generation Submarine A26 manufactured by Saab.

Jan Widerstorm, CMD, Saab India, speaking to Life of Soldiers about his company’s foray to the maritime sector, said “The acquisition of TKMS AB (former Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems AB), now known as Saab Kockums, has added a lot of strength to our company to offer a range of naval products that now extends from fully integrated fighter aircraft to a wide range of combat platforms for navies.”

Speaking about his company’s offer to India, he said “Regarding submarines, the Swedish Navy has placed an order on Saab Kockums to design and build the next generation of air-independent propulsion submarines. The Swedish A26 submarine is the most modern submarine program on the market and we stand ready to offer and work the Indian market with it.”

Even as Indian Navy races ahead with the P-75I deal, naval experts quip that the actual contract signing will take at least another 1-2 years as the government is yet to down select an Indian strategic partner. But the floating of the RFI for the P-75I deal has been welcomed with open hands by the naval community and the industry. The induction of the first submarine under the Program -75I, however, is expected to take at least another decade from the date of the actual contract conclusion.