While the Indian Prime Minister began his official diplomatic tour in Europe, which will pass through Paris in a few days, the French Naval Group has confirmed that it will not participate in the call for tenders launched by New Delhi for the P-75i program. The project aims to build six anaerobic-powered submarines to meet the needs expressed by the Indian Navy. Until recently, Naval Group was considered one of the favourites of the P75i competition launched in 2017 by New Delhi.
Naval Group’s decision was announced with relative discretion when launching the sixth Scorpène submarine for the Indian Navy [INS Vagsheer] at Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd. [MDL], in Mumbai, on April 20. The French industrialist had been selected to deliver six scorpene class submarines of this type under the P-75 program, with significant technology transfers involved. After a difficult start, as is often the case in India, the program has managed to rely on an efficient industrial dynamic with the MDL. Deliveries have followed one another at a sustained pace in recent years, offering the Indian Navy a new high-performance and remarkably quiet submarine, far superior to the three decades older Kilo and Type 209 still in service.
That said, to support the rise in power of the oceanic component of its deterrent – which is based on the nuclear ballistic missile submarine [SSBN] of the Arihant Class – and to deal with Chinese and Pakistani threats, the Indian Navy must imperatively expand its fleet of submarines. Hence the P75i project.
This provides for the construction of six additional submarines, to be larger than the Scorpene, equipped with an anaerobic propulsion system [Air independent Propulsion, AIP] and capable of firing cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. All for about 5.3 billion euros.
Among the potential candidates, the Swedish Kockums with the Blekinge-class [A26 type], the Japanese Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry with Sōryū class had exited the tender. During the summer of 2021, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems [TKMS], with its U-214, also left the tender and then explained its decision by pointing out their disagreement on several technical clauses of the call for tenders, particularly on the questions of responsibility, technology transfers, and workloads.
Then, in February, via Rosoboronexport, the Russian Rubin decided, for “technical reasons”, to withdraw from the competition and to offer, in place of its Amur-1650 submarine, six improved models of the Kilo class. Moscow had already put such an offer on the table in 2019. The idea then was to sign a contract by mutual agreement without going through the competitive dialogue launched by New Delhi. In the original 1999 30 year submarine building plan, the P-75i was to acquire submarine technologies from the East after acquiring submarine technologies from the west under the P-75 project.
There were only three candidates left in the running: the Spanish Navantia with S-80 plus, the South Korean Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering with DSME-3000, a variant derived from the Dosan Ahn Changho class or the KSS-III, and Naval Group, with SMX 3.0 a variant of the Shortfin Barracuda.
Given that India now wants the anaerobic propulsion system of its future submarines to be already operational, the Naval Group preferred to throw in the towel. Only Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering can meet this Indian requirement unless TKMS comes back in the race.
Reason for Naval Group’s withdrawal
“We are no longer in the race. We invested in the information request phase, but certain conditions of the call for tenders ultimately do not allow us to participate,” said the management of Naval Group, according to La Presse de la Manche.
“Naval Group has always been ready to offer the best solution […] for the Indian Navy’s P75(I) project. […] However, this tender requires that the AIP be proven at sea, which is not the case because the French Navy does not use such a propulsion system”, confirmed, later, the company, according to Indian sources. And to add, without further details: “Nevertheless, we look forward to a closer association with India”.
Anyway, and as things stand, Project 75(i) seems doomed since there can no longer be a competitive dialogue. Moreover, Daewoo would not be inclined to share its technology. This may force the Indian Navy to change its plans.
In September 2021, after the Australian affair, it was suggested that India could step into the breach opened by the AUKUS alliance [United States, Australia, United Kingdom] in the field of nuclear propulsion to forge a partnership with France to acquire nuclear attack submarines [SSN], without having to lease them from Russia.
Barracuda SMX 3.0
Designated for the time being SMX 3.0, it is a derivative version of the Shortfin Barracuda, incorporating the latest technological advances developed for the SNA program (SSN) of the Suffren class of the Marin Nationale. The SMX 3.0 is the largest submarine in the P-75i competition, with a length of almost 85 meters and 8.5 meters in diameter. It has a displacement of more than 3500 tons when diving. The vessel is designed to offer the closest performance to an SSN while remaining conventionally powered AIP. Thus, like the Suffren, it will be able to navigate at high speed silently thanks to its Pump-Jet, a streamlined propeller which reduces sound diffusion and cavitation of the propulsion propeller. The new FC2G AIP module developed by Naval Group and the new Ion-Lithium batteries developed in cooperation with SAFT offer several weeks’ diving autonomy and speeds close to an SSN.