|#881||3372||August 03, 2012||By Raveen Janu|
India has been recognised as a nuclear power by the world community, as it possesses tested nuclear warheads which are under the command of India’s civilian leadership. The delivery vehicles for the warheads are under the command of the Indian Armed Forces. In its pursuit of a capable and effective nuclear triad, India has the land and air based systems in place but still needs to develop the third leg based on submarines to complete the nuclear triad. In the absence of this capability, India’s stated official policy seeking minimum credible deterrence cannot be considered to be operational.
The need to have a credible submarine force is recognised by the defence establishment as the existing inventory has been depleting at a very fast rate. By 2015 India will be left with nearly half of its current submarine fleet of fifteen submarines. The current inventory consists of ten Kilo Class diesel-electric powered submarines, four HDW diesel-electric and one Akula Class nuclear (SSN) submarine. Currently, INS Arihant (SSBN) is undergoing sea trials. It has been estimated that the required number of submarines for a minimum credible deterrence against China and Pakistan is around eighteen. It is important to highlight that by 2015 India would have approximately seven to eight submarines as against the needed eighteen. Such reduced numbers have serious security implications to overcome which the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) sanctioned two projects, the P75 and P75I to replenish India’s depleting stock of submarines.
A 30-year submarine building plan proposed by the defence establishment was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in July 1999. It envisaged the manufacture of 24 vehicles, all of them in India, the first twelve with transfer of technology from foreign collaborators and the next twelve indigenously. The USD 4.5 billion Project 75 envisaged the building of six French Scorpene Class submarines in the time frame 2012-2017. At this juncture, the project is already three years behind schedule and with huge cost over runs. The first completed Scorpene was scheduled to be delivered by 2012 but due to inordinate delays and teething problems, the date has been postponed to 2015. This situation is a cause for serious concern as both China and Pakistan are beefing up their underwater combat capabilities at a rapid pace. The gap is likely to widen in the future if the current state of affairs is not remedied.
Project 75I (India) was supposed to be the successor to Project 75. Project 75I warranted the manufacturing of six next generation stealth submarines by 2020 at an estimated cost of USD 11 billion. The basic parameters of importance are the Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP) to increase endurance and stealth capability, land attack capability and vertically launched missiles feature to accommodate the BrahMos series.The progress report of Project 75I is however abysmal with officials in defence ministry stating that the Request for Proposal (RFP) for global tender can be floated only after mid-2012. This delay impacts the Navy’s modernisation plans and the Navy now will be unable to possess its submarines from Project 75I before 2022. The combined costs of P75 and P75I is around USD 15 billion which is much greater than the touted ‘mother of all defence deals’; the procurement of 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircrafts for nearly USD 10 billion. Although there has been a lot of coverage regarding the MMRCA deal, the Navy’s quest for a fighting and credible submarine force has been languishing for a long time.
India needs to fast track its submarine programme. The various stakeholders need to act in a coherent, planned and decisive manner to provide India with the capabilities to deter its adversaries and gain the deserved prestige in the global arena. The Government of India (GoI) on its part must ensure timely issuance of RFPs and the corresponding selection and approval procedures. There has to be appropriate political intervention to enforce the strict guidelines all the way to the bottom of the decision making pyramid. Once the vendor selection process is completed, the production must start at the earliest. Simultaneously an independent agency needs to look into matters of accountability, transparency and most importantly to monitor the progress of the project. Also in both the projects(P75 and P75I), the Private Indian players have been left out in favor of DPSUs and foreign vendors with the exception of INS Arihant. The expertise of Private Indian Defence Companies needs to form an integral part of any future submarine project as this will help in timely deliveries and best of business practices.
There has to be greater emphasis on indigenous development of shipyard and dock infrastructure along with the focus on supporting industries. Private players such as L&T, ABG Shipyard and Pipavav Shipyard have invested substantially in the infrastructure and should be considered in future proposals. The Ministry of Defense(MoD) examined the Krishnamurthy Committee report and concluded that no private sector shipyard individually has the capability to build a submarine. Such discriminatory behavior will only hurt India’s national interests in the long term. The public sector units of Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) and Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) are already under tight budget and time constraints to deliver pending orders from P75. Private players can be considered in limited capacity to fulfill the P75I deadlines rather than depending on foreign vendors for all relevantneeds.
Recently, in a report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Mazagon Dock Ltd Chairman Vice Admiral (Retd) H.S. Malhi remarked,“My request as CMD would be that if repeat orders are placed, we will be able to retain the expertise because it takes a long time to build up expertise on submarine construction. We have already suffered in the past when there was a gap between the SSK and Scorpene.”The statement is indicative of the urgent need to retain in-house expertise by application of repeat ordersand reducing dependence on foreign vendors.The transfer of HSL to MoD is another example of how the various stakeholders can collaborate to provide timely deliveries in an accountable and transparent manner. The end user, i.e. the Indian Navy is most concerned about the timely availability of submarines.Therefore, it would be the appropriate body, through the official channels of MoD, to take over some of the critical dockyards, to ascertain that there are no budget and time overruns.
Transfer of Technology (ToT) is another widely debated issue as foreign governments are not as forthcoming as the policy makers want them to. The focus of India’s investments should be on absorption of ToT and indigenous development of submarine systems. Significantly, Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is also developing an AIP system at its Naval Materials Research Laboratory at Ambarnath, near Mumbai. This is based on fuel cell technology, as is the AIP developed by Siemens, fitted in German HDW submarines.There is need for the project to be monitored on a very tight schedule and preference should be given to DRDO’s AIP if it is completed on time, incorporating the qualitative and functional parameters mentioned in the RFP for P75I.
Submarines are, in fact, the ultimate stealth weapons. Despite advances in sonar technology over the decades, detecting, tracking and targeting submarines remains extremely difficult, particularly in the Indian Ocean where the salinity of the seas and the presence of thermal zones of variable water temperature, make submarine detection extremely difficult. The value of submarines as strategic assets is indispensable. P75 and P75I are critical in the country’s endeavor to complete the nuclear triad and protect its areas of national interest particularly the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).The completion of these projects is essential to fulfill the Indian Navy’s ambition to be a full fledged blue water Navy and to enhance its ability to project power in consonance with India’s increasing economic and geostrategic power.
Raveen Janu is an Associate Fellow at Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
Views expressed are personal