TANGLED IN RED TAPE , INDIAN SUBMARINE FLEET SINKING
Rajat Pandit, TNN | Jun 9, 2013, 03.14 AM IST
INDIAN NAVY IS MAKING DO WITH JUST 14 AGEING CONVENTIONAL DISEL-ELECTRIC SUBMARINES
NEW DELHI: The navy's desperate attempts to rescue its sinking underwater combat arm have been dealt a double whammy. First, the ongoing project to construct six Scorpene submarines has been delayed by another 14-18 months, with the first vessel now slated to roll out of Mazagon Dock Limited(MDL) by November 2016 at the earliest.
More worryingly, the new project to construct six advanced stealth submarines, armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance, is still stuck in political apathy and bureaucratic red-tape. It has already been examined by three committees after being granted "acceptance of necessity" in November 2007.
The finance ministry has now again returned the file for the over Rs 50,000-crore project, code-named Project-75India, to the defence ministry for clarifications.
"The draft Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) note for P-75I is simply being tossed around with no resolution in sight. The global tender or RFP (request for proposal) for it can be issued only after the CCS approves the file," said a source.
Even if the P-75I tender is floated today, it will take at least three years to ink the contract with the selected foreign collaborator, and another seven to eight years after that for the first submarine to be built.
With the over Rs 23,000 crore Scorpene (P-75) project already running four years behind the original 2012-17 induction schedule, alarms bells are now ringing. The navy is making do with just 14 aging conventional diesel-electric submarines — 10 Russian Kilo-class and four German HDW ones — which are to be progressively retired in the coming years despite life-extension refits. China and Pakistan, meanwhile, are adding muscle to their underwater combat fleets.
Way back in 1999, the CCS approved a 30-year submarine-building plan, which envisaged induction of 12 new submarines by 2012, followed by another dozen by 2030. But the government's inability to plan and take decisions means the navy is yet to get a single submarine 14 years later.
P-75I is embroiled in a debate over the "selection of Indian shipyards" and the "indigenization level to be achieved". While two submarines are to be imported, four will be constructed in India.
The navy wants private shipyards to be involved in the project to save time since MDL is overburdened with orders. But the MoD's defence production department has insisted that three will be built at MDL in Mumbai and one at Hindustan Shipyard in Visakhapatnam.
The Scorpene project, with contracts being inked with French firms in October 2005 has been grossly mismanaged, with huge time and cost overruns. The deal for the 'MDL procured material packages', including sensors, propulsion and the likes, with the French firms was signed only last December. The order for heavy-weight torpedoes to arm the submarines is also yet to be placed.
Projections show only five to six of the present 14 Indian submarines will be fully operational by 2020. Even with a few Scorpenes by then, India will remain far short of the minimum 18 conventional submarines required to deter Pakistan and China.