New Delhi: Indian Navy is all set to bury fresh acquisition under Project 75 I and may go for repeat Project 75 order to MDL with DRDO proven and tested air independent propulsion system fitted into the new submarines under “Atmanirbhar Bharat.”
Years back, then Navy Chief Admiral Robin K Dhowan did not agree to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s suggestion that Indian Navy should exercise the option of three more Kalvari (Scorpene) class rather than go for fresh acquisition of six of Project 75 I, air independent propulsion equipped, submarines. As a result, the options clause for Project 75, which was approved by AB Vajpayee government way back in 2003, was cancelled in September 2016.
Later, the Ministry of Defence floated a request for proposal (RFP) for AIP equipped six Project 75 I class submarines at the cost of Rs 40,000 crore on July 20, 2021. Considering the slow decision making by Indian military-civilian bureaucracy, it is assumed normal to take a decade or more to complete any big acquisition. This means that the current Scorpene submarine line at MDL will go unutilised and with the next set of 75 I class being built in late 2030s, the submarine line will require a fresh massive investment.
Meanwhile, submarines with higher endurance lithium-ion batteries and faster re-charge capabilities have superseded the AIP equipped submarines. The lithium-ion batteries have double the storage capacities of traditional lead acid batteries because of which the range of the submarine increases considerably. While Japan’s Soryu class Japanese submarines have higher endurance lithium-ion batteries with faster re-charge capabilities, Germany too has moved ahead with lithium-ion technology and France has opted for nuclear propulsion.
Thus, the government most likely may end up with a single vendor option with South Korea being the only country building AIP submarines. Hence, the technology will be outdated by the time final decision is made.
Taking note of the PLA Navy’s rapid advance into Indo-Pacific and the QUAD, the Indian Navy’s leadership is rethinking on its submarine options and may ask the government to repeat the order of Kalvari class submarines with DRDO proven and French Naval Group tested AIP system fitted into the next six submarines.
The Indian Navy’s plan for the next 25 years includes design, development, and construction of three nuclear power conventionally armed submarines (nuclear attack submarines or SSNs). Currently, India has two nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarines or SSBNs with the third one under fitment.
To ensure that Indian submarine building and machine tooling skills remains active after the last of Kalvari class submarines is commissioned this year, the repeat order of Kalvari class submarines is important. It will also open avenues for MDL to export the same submarines to other countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia and in Africa.
Considering limited option it has, India should build on existing Project 75 with indigenous DRDO developed AIP and later retrofit the same AIP into Kalvari class submarines during mid-term life upgrade. In all probability, it seems that Project 75 I is headed towards a quiet burial.