The Indian Defence Ministry’s delay in floating a tender for six conventional submarines appears to be helping Russia, as the Indian Navy is now asking the MoD to buy two Russian-built Amur-class subs to help restock the shrinking force.
The $12 billion global tender would cover the purchase of six conventional submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) technology under the Indian Navy’s Project 75-I.
A high-level team from Rosoboronexport was in New Delhi two weeks ago to negotiate the sale or lease of two Amur-class subs, said a source in MoD who gave no details of the deliberations.
The Indian Navy also plans to build six conventional Scorpene submarines under license by DCNS of France at Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks. The delivery of those submarines has been delayed by more than four years. The first of the six submarines will now be inducted into the Navy by 2016 compared with the original delivery date of 2012.
“The delay in Scorpene delivery as well as the delay in [the 75-I] submarine project has led to extreme depletion of [the] submarine arm,” said retired Indian Navy Capt. Shyam Kumar Singh. “The next new submarine will be ready to join the fleet only in 2018. Therefore the earnest need to procure the submarines from Russia.”
Russia leased the nuclear submarine Chakra in 1984, the only country to lease a nuclear submarine to India.
The Indian Navy operates seven Russian-made Kilo-class and four German-made SSK submarines, the last of which joined service in the late 1990s.
In the past year, three Kilo-class submarines were unavailable due to accidents and delays by the state-run shipyard at Vizag.
Though the Navy has asked the MoD to negotiate the purchase of two Amur subs, there is a difference of opinion among service officials about whether to buy Russian or Western-built vessels.
One faction favors the Russian-made AIP submarines, finding them more safe and robust while another group, mostly younger, prefers Western submarines based on a better score in electronics, control and sensors.
“Russian submarines are cheaper to maintain as the Indian Navy has invested heavily in creating relevant infrastructure to support the boats,” a senior Navy officer said. “Besides, there is adequate training on Russian submarines.”
Another officer rebutted: “While the Russian submarines are cheaper to buy initially, their support is expensive and has become an issue with the Indian Navy. While the French and the Western submarines are easier to maintain there are issues of transfer of technology of critical systems.”
While the Navy is facing depleting submarine fleet strength, there is uncertainty over the floating of the $12 billion tender under Project 75-I, now delayed by more than four years. The MoD has not given a reason for the delay in floating the tender.
“The project will not be scrapped,” Singh said. “However, the initial specifications were drawn sometime in 2006-07. It has already been eight years since then. Even if the tender is floated now, it will take at least 10 years for the first submarine to be built at the fastest and [it will be] outdated. The chances are that the specification may be changed. This could be the reason for delay in floating the formal tender.”
The overseas defense shipyards that have shown interest in Project 75-I include DCNS, for its Scorpene with AIP system; HDW of Germany with its Type 214 with Siemens Fuel Cell AIP submarine; Russia with its Amur-class submarine; and Fincantieri of Italy with its S-1000 submarine.
The strength of the Indian Navy submarine fleet has dwindled from a total of 21 vessels in the 1980s to 14. Yet China has more than 60 boats, a point of major concern to the Indian Navy, an official said.