INS Karanj, the 3rd of the P 75 submarine building project of the Indian Navy (IN), capable of launching special forces, was commissioned on 10 March in a ceremony at the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai. During the commissioning, the focus was on the ‘Made in India’ components of the submarine. Six Scorpene Class submarines are being built in India by the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) Mumbai, under the collaboration and transfer of technology (ToT) with Naval Group (formerly DCN, then DCNS), France.
As per the Indian Navy, some components of the submarine were imported in consonance with the contract, but the submarine was entirely constructed by Indians. During the making of the first two submarines, INS Kalvari and INS Khanderi, the construction was done by MDL under the supervision of the Advising team from the French side. The entire labour and planning were from MDL. INS Karanj was built and commissioned entirely by MDL with the participation of IN and the industry.
Another, aspect of the Indian content was the training of the crew of INS Karanj, which was done in India. As per the contract, the first two sets of crews were to be trained in France and they will form the backbone of training of the future crews in India. This was also achieved.
But there was Naval Group participation during the building of INS Karanj and will continue till the last of the submarine is delivered. The Naval Group is ultimately responsible for building the submarine up to the contracted specification of the IN. For INS Karanj, the design and the Combat system were contracted with the Prime Collaborator, the Naval group.
“All the work was done by MDL under the supervision of Technical Advising Team, which cleared each stage during the construction. The IN overseeing team (INSOT) was there from the very first boat. This was independent of the Technical Advising Team from DCN. INSOT represents the user participation during the construction more like an inspector. There were to be two teams from the DCN. 1. The Technical Advising Team, which was a small group from the design side and even smaller technical personnel to be present for the entire duration of the Contract. 2. The Technical consultants who would be participants in various stages of construction and would be called depending on the type of expertise required at the concerned stage of construction. The composition and duration of the presence of this group would vary depending on the requirements. The training for the first crew and spare crew, including the training team was done in France by the French Navy. Subsequent training in INS Satavahana. The DCNS Technical Advising Team is as per the Contract. When the Contract was being negotiated, DCN was Prime Collaborator whereas MDL was the Prime Contractor,” says Cmde Arun Kumar (Retd) a former Indian Navy submariner who was the Principal Director Submarine Acquisition (PDSMAQ). He was the member-secretary of the Price negotiation Committee (PNC) with Dhirendra Singh as the Chairman when he was Addl Secy Defence Production.
Indian Submarine Building Capability may be soon lost
During the Q&A at the event, Admiral Karambir Singh, the Chief of the Indian Navy, said that there are three components to building a warship which includes Float, Move and Fight. India is comfortable in the first two aspects and the third it is a work in progress. He also stated that the P 75 India submarine project (P 75I) is still under progress and the efforts are being made for faster acquisition process. P 75I is a made to specs, unlike P 75 which was made to build (what is available). As a side note, this is partially true as P 75 was not just made to build. The design met the Naval Staff Qualitative Requirement (NSQR) for the Project and modified to meet Indian requirements, including the induction of the Exocet Block 2 SM39. It was also modified to launch SUT torpedo which was not envisaged in the original protocols for the Combat System.
The original intent of the P 75I submarine project was to acquire a submarine from the East (Russia) and absorb the technologies. Subsequently, the future Indian submarine will be completely designed from technologies and experience derived from the Western P 75 and Eastern P 75I projects. P 75 I project now lacks the focus of the original objective and this may cost India in addition to the delays.
The P 75I project is not just going to cost the Indian Navy capability due to the decline in the submarine numbers, but also lead to India’s submarine building capability loss. Even if the government takes a quick decision on the P 75I project, which is unlikely, the project is expected to take another 10 years to fructify and by then the submarine building ecosystem built at MDL will be over. It is important to note that P 75I project is already 20 years behind the schedule. The rest of the three P 75 submarines are in advanced stages of construction and hence some of the capacities are lying idle. Once the last of the P 75 submarines is delivered by 2026, the entire capacity will be idle.
Follow on orders for P 75 submarines
As per the contract, there is no option clause for additional submarines, but according to standard practice India may exercise an option without competitive bidding for half the number of the original contract and this should be exercised in order to keep the submarine lines humming and fulfilling the submarine force levels of the Indian Navy. If not exercised, India will repeat the history of 1987 when India did not exercise the option for 2 HDW Submarines of the Type 1500 and the submarine building capabilities were totally lost.
It’s a moot point that the author has raised regarding curtains for our submarine building capability. MDL and our country lost the extremely complex submarine building skill sets, once the project for HDW submarines was pre maturely terminated. It takes over a decade to build basic abilities and skills, as well as to streamline the processes and logistics. MDL has now developed these to be be superior to those of the collaborators due to the stringency and effectiveness of the teams involved. The issue before our country is development and retention of submarine build capability. For our conventional submarine needs, which is perhaps at best one vessel per year, it hardly makes sense to develop multiple sources. The US Navy, which has an all nuclear, 70 plus submarine force, builds them in only two yards! This ensures that the skill sets are continuously developed and retained. It would be a conservation of our scant resources and skill sets if we continue to build all our conventional submarines in MDL