Naval Group, a pioneer and leader in naval defence technology, has emerged as one of forerunners in the navy’s hunt for six diesel-electric attack submarines. The maritime technology giant under its Indian business entity – Naval Group India Pvt Ltd – is striding forward to meet the raising demands of India’s naval forces.

Naval Group India Pvt Ltd is a 100% owned subsidiary company of the Naval Group that was established in 2009. Through this front, Naval Group has held a significant position in the Indian market. The flagship project of Naval Group in India is undoubtedly the ‘P-75’ program. In collaboration with Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), Naval Group is constructing six state-of-the-art ‘Scorpene SSK’ diesel-electric submarines. Both the entities are working closely to meet the raising requirements of the Indian forces.

Life of Soldiers, recently talked with Rear Admiral R K Shrawat (Retd.), Chairman and Managing Director, Naval Group India, about his company’s offer and about their unique partnership with Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited (MDL).

Rear Admiral R K Shrawat, Chairman & MD, Naval Group in India

Following are the extracts from the interview: 

LoS: The Indian Navy, recently commenced the hunt for at least six diesel-electric submarines under a deal worth well over INR 50,000 crore. Naval Group is learnt to be the forerunner for the tender, can you brief us about this?

CMD: NAVAL GROUP is in position to offer a submarine fully in line with Indian Navy’s expectation for enhanced capabilities. We understand the future submarines are to be procured as per SP guidelines and the submarines are to be built by the shipyard that will be chosen by Indian Government as strategic partner. In this process, our first action has been to answer to requests from Navy to NAVAL GROUP as OEM and then we look forward to follow the guidelines of the SP model to answer to any shipyard, which Indian Navy would like us to get associated with as per the process.

LoS: How is the Program – 75 progressing, could you brief us about the recent developments in the program?

CMD: Launch of Karanj on 31 January 2018 was a historic event, as MDL achieved another significant milestone in submarine building program, following up on the prestigious commissioning of INS Kalvari by PM Shri Narendra Modi on 14 December 2017. For India, this was the first time a third submarine of a series was entirely constructed in India. This was also crucial as MDL worked fairly independently, demonstrating the success of Transfer of Technology (TOT) between Naval Group (ex DCNS) and MDL. As indicated by Indian Navy and MDL, the programme has been remaining on track for quite a while now. MDL has now attained the level of competence and skills to build complex submarines through successful collaboration and transfer of technology. The second submarine is undergoing sea trials and getting ready for commissioning soon. Karanj will also enter the stage of sea trials soon. Remaining three submarines are also in advanced stages of building at MDL and will be delivered to Navy as per ensuing time.

LoS: For P-75I, Naval Group is offering an advanced version of the Scorpene. Could you brief us in detail about the advancements planned to induce in the new platform?

CMD: When we talk about future submarine of Indian Navy, we must acknowledge that it is under Indian Navy’s good decision to choose how the project will be nomenclature and executed. We are aware that Indian Navy wants additional and enhanced performances and capabilities in their future submarine after P75 Kalvari class. AIP and land attack missiles are one of few of such features that are well known to be in the Navy’s wish list and we believe that it is a very pragmatic and practical choice that Indian Navy has in mind.

LoS:Naval Group has been associated with India’s efforts to design and develop through the length of P-75. What capabilities has the country mastered? Could you elaborate this relationship of the company with India?

 CMD: As part of the P75 programme, MDL is in cooperation with NAVAL GROUP to build six P75 submarines through transfers of technology. This TOT has been for transferring manufacturing capabilities and expertise in quality control for several tasks including the safety dive, resulting in training and qualifying skilled man power.

It was quite an ordeal that Naval Group, under patronage of MDL and Indian Navy started in 2009 by identifying more than 500 companies, visited and flash audited more than 100 of them. Based on such dedicated efforts, only 22 were contracted under Indigenisation program. Beyond these 22, there are 21 more companies who are also considered fully qualified for further indigenous manufacturing and services. So easily we can boast of a strong sound industrial ecosystem of 43 Indian companies, which is still growing keeping in mind future projects (not limited to submarines).

INS Khanderi; Indian Navy; Scorpene Submarines; Make in India
INS Khanderi during its launch in January; Courtesy – Indian Navy

5. MDL, today, is one of the only shipyard capable of designing and developing a submersible platform. Could you brief us about the capabilities that the shipyard has garnered over the years?

CMD: Submarine construction is a complex defense undertaking for any nation. P75 was a challenging project, as the First of Class (FOC) was built completely in India and out of OEM’s premises. It would have easier to build the FOC in the designer premises as most generally done for transfer programs.

Indeed, First Of Classes are always built in the OEM country to speed up training and significantly shorten the learning curve and we believe that MDL has done a magnificent job. Indeed it is one of few in the world and only one in India to have mastered the unique skills needed to build submarine. But it also needs to be highlighted that such competences need to be nurtured and preserved. MDL has already experienced such a damaging affect since U209 construction. A few years of idleness lead to almost complete loss of expertise, which in reality took thousands of crores in INR to experience a new learning curve and regain expertise. Many foreign shipyards have lost their expertise and had to abandon submarine construction or rely upon foreign collaborator to continue due to idleness of a few years (UK, Spain, Italy, Netherlands…etc…). This is a very special skill requiring years of training to weld specific high tensile steel of the submarine hull by very qualified staff. This is the only way to ensure the safety of the submarine. MDL has finished building all 6 pressure hulls for P75 submarines and their hull workshop and its trained workforce remains idle.

6. The Navy has requested for Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) with the platform, given that this is a critical technology. How willing is Naval Group to open up ToT of this technology?

CMD: AIP is a strong requirement of the Indian Navy. Its development in India is in line with NAVAL GROUP’s objective to continuously increase the indigenous content of the P75 submarines. NAVAL GROUP has always been supportive of the indigenous DRDO AIP being developed at NMRL. We are indeed keen to have the DRDO AIP integrated in the P75 submarines sooner or later.

NAVAL GROUP is advising NMRL on the safety requirement so that they can adapt their technology accordingly. Also, as the designer of the Scorpene submarine, we had been requested by the DRDO to study the functional and physical integration of DRDO AIP into the Scorpene submarine. Integrating DRDO AIP technology will require increasing the hull by several meters. This will be achieved by adding a hull section (plug-in) that will accommodate the specific AIP equipment and all other systems, equipment and components which are required to interface with the rest of the ship.

7. With just over a dozen submarines slated to join the Indian Navy in the next decade or so,

India is set to emerge as one of the largest underwater platforms operator. Thus, it is mandatory that the country boosts its MRO capabilities.  With the Scoprenes forming a major part of the future fleet, what is Naval Group’s offer here?

CMD : Indian Navy is experienced in operating different classes of submarines including EKM and SSK. Soon, they are operating Scorpene class submarines built by MDL under P75 project.

These modern submarines benefit from a very high level of integration and automation requiring an integrated service support. Taking into account IN’s experience and existing infrastructure at its naval bases, NAVAL GROUP is proposing to assist Indian Navy to support the P75 submarines through an onsite team comprising of Indian and French engineers to ensure optimized operability and sea time of Indian Navy’s P75 submarines. We will also be available to support them through provision of experts to perform repair and through delivery of spares, as needed.

8. Could you brief us about the F-21s capabilities?

CMD: NAVAL GROUP has presented the capabilities of the F-21 heavy weight torpedo to the Indian Navy. This torpedo has been developed primarily for the French Navy’s new generation of SSN class submarine Barracuda. With highest safety features, advanced speed and performance, F-21 is a much more lethal weapon than other available torpedoes, which mostly use old generation Silver Zinc for their battery technology.

More than 100 F-21 torpedoes have been ordered so far to be integrated on to the French Navy’s Rubis and Barracuda class submarines, and also for the Brazilian Scorpene submarines. Our industrial partners, MSMEs, as well as DRDO laboratories are being consulted to enlarge future possibility of indigenous content for this modern torpedo.