Why France's Naval Group Will Not Participate In India's P75I Submarine Programme

by Swarajya Staff - May 3, 2022 02:31 PM +05:30 IST
Why France's Naval Group Will Not Participate In India's P75I Submarine ProgrammeScorpene-class submarine of the Indian Navy. 

France's Naval Group has said that it will not participate in the P75I project of the Indian Navy, under which six diesel-electric attack submarines are to be built in the country in partnership with an Indian strategic partner.

Naval Group has withdrawn because it cannot meet the conditions of the Request for Proposal (RFI) put out by the Indian Navy.

  • The RFI seeks a sea-proven Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system for the submarines to be built under the P75I project.

  • Naval Grup has said that "the present RFP requires that the fuel cell AIP be sea proven, which is not the case for us yet since the French Navy does not use such a propulsion system."

Context: The P75I project is part of India's 30-year-old submarine building programme that extends till 2030.

  • Under this programme, the Indian Navy should have 24 submarines — 18 conventional and six nuclear-powered ones.

  • India is building both nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that carry nuclear weapons.

  • But its fleet of conventional submarines, mostly made up of Russian-origin Kilo/Sindhughosh-class and German-designed Shishumar-class (a variant of Type 209) boats, is ageing.

  • It has received six new Kalvari-class submarines in the last few years, but these are not enough to fill the gap.

What is AIP, and why does India need it?

  • AIP system gives a submarine the ability to remain submerged underwater for a long time without surfacing.

  • A conventional submarine not equipped with an AIP has to snorkel frequently to recharge its batteries which power its propellers. This involves travelling just below the surface of the water with the periscope and generator exhaust pipe above the surface. It significantly increases the risk of detection.

  • An AIP system reduces the need for snorkelling. As a result, it improves a submarine's ability to remain undetected.

  • Both Pakistan and China have AIP-equipped submarines.

  • None of the conventional submarines India currently operates has AIP. The Kalvari-class boats will be equipped with an indigenously developed AIP during their refit programme.

A setback for India. Naval Group's decision to withdraw from the P7I programme could lead to further delay.

  • The Kalvari-class boats are based on the Scorpene design developed by the Naval Group. The infrastructure created in India for the Kalvari-class programme is currently lying idle.

  • Due to its involvement in the Kalvari-class project and growing defence ties between India and France, the Naval Group was being seen as a strong contender for the programme.

  • Recent reports say Germany's ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, the front-runner for this project, may not participate. In that case, the programme could be headed towards a problematic single vendor situation as South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering will remain the only contender.

Dig deeper: India's indigenous AIP system

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