Several ongoing delays in the procurement of essential defence equipment raise serious concerns over the government's commitment to national security and the well-being of the armed forces. It is imperative that the government takes swift and decisive action to address these issues and ensure that our defence forces are adequately equipped to face any potential threats.
Midget Submarine Project Challenge
Despite its plans in 2009 to be the first to acquire Midget submarines, the Indian Navy has remained tight-lipped about its procurement needs. According to open sources, the Navy initiated the acquisition process by issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to Indian shipyards such as Hindustan Shipyards Limited, ABG, and Pipavav shipyards.
Initially, the Navy had planned to purchase only five of these vessels, but it is speculated that the number of inductions may have increased over time. The acquisition of Midget submarines was seen as a significant step in improving the Navy's operational capabilities, particularly in light of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
In the course of the attacks, the assailants commandeered an Indian fishing vessel and murdered its crew prior to navigating along the coastline of the city using inflatable dinghies to access Badhwar Park and the Sassoon Docks, located a short distance from the city's Gateway of India monument. It was believed that the induction of Midget submarines would enhance the Navy's ability to counter such threats effectively.
However, despite the importance of this procurement, the Navy has yet to disclose any information regarding its progress or the current status of the acquisition process. It is imperative that the Navy communicates its needs and requirements to relevant stakeholders to ensure that our defence forces are well-equipped to face any potential threats.
In 2016, Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) was nominated to receive a $400 million contract to construct two midget submarines for the Indian Navy. However, the tender was postponed for a month before being officially awarded to HSL. There are unverified reports indicating that the small submarines were meant for the Navy's Marine Commando Force, and they would serve the purpose of transporting weapons and equipment from the mother ship to attack targets like ships and coastal installations. Additionally, these submarines would be utilized for conducting secretive surveillance operations in shallow waters. To find consultants for the construction of these submarines, a global tender will be launched by the state-owned shipyard.
Despite the Navy's request for midget submarines over ten years ago, there has been little to no progress in their procurement. However, earlier this year, the design of a diesel-electric midget submarine was completed by India's state-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), Mumbai. Construction of the vessel's prototype has commenced, but information regarding its specifications and displacement is being kept confidential.
Moreover, MDL has requested cooperation in the Design, Development, and Construction of Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs), which would have the capacity to transport two small torpedoes for coastal surveillance. Under development are XLUUVs that serve as affordable options and are capable of carrying two light torpedoes, laying mines, and transporting payloads for coastal surveillance.
Overall, despite the Navy's efforts to enhance its operational capabilities, the slow progress in procuring necessary defence equipment remains a matter of concern. It is crucial that the government takes concrete steps to ensure that our defence forces are well-equipped and prepared to face any potential threats.
Oversung P75I Project
The Indian Navy’s ambitious plan to manufacture six state-of-the-art conventional submarines is facing significant delays. The Request for Proposal (RFP) for the project, which was announced in July 2021 under the Strategic Partnership model of the Make in India initiative, has not made significant progress yet. This delay is particularly concerning as the project timeline has been extended yet again, leaving the project in limbo.
The integration of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology into the six new domestically produced vessels has raised concerns among foreign bidders. As a result, foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) have shown a lack of enthusiasm in responding to the RFP, citing the stringent conditions. Some OEMs have even withdrawn from the process, and AIP has been a key issue raised in their concerns.
The RFP response deadline has been extended twice now, with the first extension occurring in June. The new deadline of December 31 is quickly approaching, and the RFP remains the official process for inviting potential bidders to submit their responses.
AIP technology significantly enhances the submerged endurance of conventional submarines, allowing them to recharge their batteries without having to surface to access oxygen. India is making efforts to develop advanced technology like Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), which is currently possessed by only a few countries. In contrast, Pakistan has already acquired two AIP-equipped submarines and is partnering with China to build six more. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, has yet to operate submarines with AIP and is operating with only 16 submarines, below its planned capacity.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has taken a significant step towards the 'Make in India' campaign by releasing the RFP for the first acquisition program under the Strategic Partnership Model. Project 75(India) (P-75(I)) is a plan to build six Conventional Submarines fitted with AIP technology for the Indian Navy. The project's RFP was issued on July 20, 2021, to the two selected Indian Applicant Companies or Strategic Partners (SPs) - Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). The estimated cost of the entire project is over 40,000 crores.
The P-75I project, which aims to build six advanced conventional submarines for the Indian Navy, has faced significant delays and setbacks. According to a senior official from India's largest submarine builder, unforeseen circumstances have forced the bid submission deadline to be pushed back from November 2021 to June 2022. This delay has made it challenging for the majority of overseas participating companies to meet the original deadline. If the bid submission does take place in June, the government will require an additional two years to consider it before placing orders, with the goal of completing the procurement process by the end of 2024. Despite the delays, the project remains a crucial part of India's defence strategy, and efforts are being made to ensure that it moves forward as smoothly as possible.
Foreign Vendors Withdrawing
The P-75I project has been marred by the withdrawal of several foreign contenders, with notable companies such as ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) of Germany and a Swedish firm citing concerns with meeting the stringent requirements set out in the RFP. TKMS, initially considered the project's leading contender, expressed reservations about the high proportion of indigenous content and the unlimited liability of the foreign technology partner. Another blow to the project came from French company Naval Group, which stated that it could not participate due to certain conditions outlined in the RFP concerning the air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. This development is particularly disappointing, given that Naval Group had previously transferred technology to India for manufacturing the Scorpene-class submarines at the Mazgaon Dockyard Limited.
About The Author
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst, and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Private Limited which is a Subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia.
(Views expressed are the author's own & do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)
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