India dusts off ‘mother of all underwater defense deals’

Irshad Salim — India is said to be on the brink of cutting “mother of all underwater defense deals” — after a 10-year delay, with France, Germany, Russia, Sweden, Spain and Japan to build six advanced stealth submarines for an estimated $11 billion in collaboration with an Indian shipyard and its local emerging military-industrial vendors.

The conventional submarine program called Project-75(I), reportedly received Delhi’s “acceptance of necessity” back in November 2007, and is likely to be the first mega project under the new “strategic partnership” policy India’s defense ministry finalized in May.

The six shipbuilders, Naval Group-DCNS (France), ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (Germany), Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau (Russia), Navantia (Spain), Saab (Sweden) and the Mitsubishi-Kawasaki Heavy Industries combine (Japan), have to first respond to the RFI (request for information) issued to them last week by September 15, report Times of India citing officials. While Russia, Germany and France already have submarine-building experience in India, the possibility of Japan also being a contender for the project has been reported by the Times of India.

India also wants to speed up the ‘mother of all underwater defense deals’.

“It may take around two years for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-Indian shipyard combine to be down-selected. Moreover, the first new submarine will roll out only seven to eight years after the final contract is inked. But the aim is to fast-track the entire process,” said a defense ministry official.

The Indian shipyard for the strategic partnership with the selected foreign collaborator will therefore be chosen in a parallel process.

The South Asian country’s Navy wants the six new diesel-electric submarines to have land-attack cruise missiles, air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance and the capability to integrate indigenous weapons and sensors as and when they are developed.

“The stress will be on transfer of technology from the OEM and indigenization. The submarines, to be built with indigenous steel, should also be less maintenance-intensive to ensure a better operational cycle with minimal downtime,” said the official.

As per approved plans, the Indian Navy expects to have 18 diesel-electric submarines as well as six nuclear-powered attack submarines (called SSNs) and four nuclear-powered submarines with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs) for effective deterrence against China and Pakistan, the paper reported.

Pakistan’s eastern neighbor is said to have 13 old conventional submarines, and only half of them are operational at any given time because at least 10 of them are over 25 years old, apart from two nuclear-powered submarines, INS Arihant (SSBN) and INS Chakra (SSN).

By 2021, many of the 13 existing submarines will be up for retirement despite mid-life upgrades and refits.

By then the six French Scorpene diesel-electric submarines Indin Nave is building at Mumbai’s Mazagon Docks for $3.683 billion, will be delivered.

Indian reports say the country will get its second nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) on 10-year lease from Russia under $1.5 billion deal. First one, INS Chakra came in 2012 for $900 million.

India seeks to enhance naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) it considers its frontyard, and as it perceives China-Pakistan military relationship further growing in IOR. The two all weather friends have embarked on the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (flagship of China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road Initiative) with Balochistan’s newly-built Gwadar port on the Arabia sea as the gateway.

In a related note, India, the US and Japan this month conducted a joint 10-day naval exercise, Malabar, in the Bay of Bengal on the high seas off Chennai. Though an annual exercise which has been taking place since 1992, the focus was on anti-submarine warfare and happened in the backdrop of a standoff between Indian and Chinese troops on the Sikkim border.

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