INS Vagir launched, Indian submarine building capacity lies idle

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

INS Vagir, the fifth of Scorpene-class submarine, was launched at Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) on 12 November 2020. Constructed under Project 75 submarine building program, the shipyard has already launched 4 submarines viz INS Kalvari, INS Khanderi, INS Karanj and INS Vela. INS Vagsheer is last of the series and is still under construction. Vagir is named after the Indian Ocean predator Sand Fish. The first submarine to sport the name Vagir was the Soviet Union built Foxtrot Class submarine which was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 3 December 1973 and was decommissioned on 7 June 2001.

INS Kalvari and INS Khanderi have already been commissioned into the Indian Navy. INS Karanj is in the last phase of sea trials or constructor’s sea trials. All shipyards undertake constructors sea trials to prove the performance parameters of the submarine or the ship as per design. During the constructor’s sea trial of the first P 75 submarine INS Kalvari, an Exocet missile firing was also conducted.

INS Vela has commenced her sea trials as per the Ministry of Defence release meaning that it is no more at afloat stage during which issues like setting to work of various systems are ironed out before sea trials.

The MDL submarine building capacity now sits idle due to the lackadaisical attitude of the government over the future submarine projects. The option for three more Scorpene submarines has not been exercised after the details of the Scorpene submarine were published in an Australian newspaper in August 2016. The P-75(I) project has been considerably delayed and it just crossed the Expression of Interest stage.  (Strategic Partnership clause delays Indian Navy P-75 I submarine project)

“INS Vagir is the 5th of the six Scorpene design submarines planned under Project 75 being executed by MDL. The contract was signed in Oct 2005 and all six submarines were to have been delivered by 2017. However initial delays in procurement of the platform equipment ‘MDL-Procured Material’ (MPM)  caused the Project to be delayed by 5 years. Despite that MDL on its part has done well to have delivered the first boat INS Kalvari in 2017 and the last one should be delivered in end 2022 or early 2023. After that MDL’s East Yard will be without orders and it is imperative that it is loaded with a fresh set of a series construction of submarines. It will be in the fitness of things if it is awarded the contract for Project 75 (I)  by nomination. That would ensure the full utilisation of a strategic public sector yard. We must not repeat the folly of 1987 when the 5th & 6th SSK boats (Submarine Hunter Killer) of the Type 1500 (HDW Submarine) were cancelled in the wake of the HDW scandal. As a result, we lost 15 years as also trained manpower. MDL should be the centre of excellence for construction of conventional submarines’ in India. In due course, it would be able to enter the export market. That would be the true realisation of ‘Make in India’,” says Cmde Arun Kumar (Retd), a former Indian Navy submariner who was associated closely with the Scorpene project.  

The road map for the Strategic Action Plan to implement the 30 Year Indigenous submarine construction Plan was laid out by Cmde Arun Kumar in the year 2000 when he was the Principal Director Submarine Acquisition (PDSMAQ). The first part of P75 is nearing completion. The second part P75(I) was inordinately delayed by introducing Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) as part of the Naval Staff Qualitative Requirement (NSQRs) in 2007  after he had left service in May 2004. Otherwise, by now both the parts P 75 and P 75(I) would be nearing completion thereby keeping the submarine arm’s force levels at the desired levels.  (DRDO AIP for submarines in works, but we need a nuclear-electric AIP)

The launch dates of previous submarines of the Scorpene class are INS Kalvari on 6 April 2015, INS Khanderi on 12 January 2017, INS Karanj on 31 January 2018 and INS Vela on 6 May 2019.


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