Indian Navy may give a repeat order of Scorpene submarines to the French to strengthen its dwindling submarine fleet, reports Hindustan Times.
A deal to build six Scorpene-class submarines at Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL) with transfer of technology (ToT) was signed with the French in 2005.
These were named Kalvari-class submarines in the Indian Navy’s service, the last of which was launched in April 2022, leaving the MDL production line empty.
The option clause wasn’t exercised, Hindustan Times states, due to the insistence of the then navy chief Admiral Robin Dhawan, despite the suggestion of the then defence minister late Manohar Parrikar to exercise the option clause.
However, official sources say that the navy might now exercise this clause to buy more Scorpene submarines, Hindustan Times reports.
Repeated delays have happened in the Project-75I programme, where the navy is set to build six more submarines at an approximate value of Rs 40,000 crore.
This project has seen repeated hurdles and is unlikely to go through anytime soon due to a budget crunch after the Covid-19 pandemic as well as issues with the naval staff qualitative requirements (NSQR) and the liability clause, which led to the Germans, French and Russians withdrawing their proposals, resulting in a single vendor situation.
Indian Navy operates around 15 submarines, seven of which are Russian-made Kilo-class, four German-made U-209 submarines and four latest Kalvari-class submarines (two are in fitting out and trial stages).
These are not enough to look after an area of interest as large as the Indian Ocean at a time when Pakistan is set to receive eight AIP-equipped Chinese submarines over the next few years.
In comparison, the Chinese are building multiple warships and submarines every year.
The Chinese are flexing their muscles in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as well as the South China Sea.
Their 43rd task force for anti-piracy operations — an excuse to maintain a permanent presence in the IOR — set sail for the Gulf of Aden on 10 January 2023. They also have a military base in Djibouti and are eyeing the Pakistan's Gwadar Port as well.
The Hindustan Times report also says that the AIP tech touted as a game-changer is now being superseded by Lithium-Ion battery technology. Lithium-Ion batteries are said to be twice as efficient as the Lead Acid batteries earlier used by the submarines.
The Japanese with their ‘Soryu-class submarines’ have mastered the Lithium-Ion tech, and are moving away from AIP. Germans are already moving away from the AIP and the French have entirely gone nuclear.
This could lead to Indian Navy being left with older outdated tech while the world moves to newer tech. The report suggests the way out is to build new Kalvari-class submarines with DRDO AIP plug while retrofitting the older Kalvari submarines with DRDO AIP when they go for their mid-life upgrade.
This will prevent the MDL production line to not run dry and ensure that the hard-earned submarine-building and machine tooling skills are sustained.
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