India’s water power hit by delays

New Delhi: The government seems to be merrily sleeping while India’s underwater combat arm sinks deeper and deeper. As it is, the Rs 18,798 crore Scorpene project to construct six submarines at Mazagon Docks (MDL) has been hit by huge delays and cost escalations.

And now, the government is dawdling through the proposed Rs 30,000 crore programme, called Project-75I, for the second line of submarines. After the Navy pressed the panic buttons for P-75I’s quick finalisation, the Defence Acquisitions Council chaired by defence minister A K Antony did meet on Tuesday but not much headway was made.

The identification of a domestic shipyard — either public or private — to build the six new-generation submarines is still to take place despite Navy stressing the “criticality” of fast decision-making.

“It’s only after the shipyard is identified that the RFP (request for proposal) or global tender will be issued to submarine manufacturers like Rosoboronexport (Russian), DCNS/Armaris (French), HDW (German) and Navantia (Spain),” said a defence ministry source.

“MDL is already loaded with the Scorpene project under P-75. So, a new shipyard will have to tie-up with the foreign manufacturer for P-75I. At this rate, it will take five years for P-75I to get going,” he added.

As per one projection, India will be left with only nine out of its present fleet of 16 diesel-electric submarines — 10 Russian Kilo-class, four German HDW and two virtually obsolete Foxtrot — by 2012. The number may dip to just five by 2014-2015.

This when both China and Pakistan are rapidly adding to their underwater muscle. Pakistan is now looking to induct three advanced Type-214 German submarines, equipped with AIP (air-independent propulsion) to enhance their operational capabilities, after inducting three French Agosta-90B submarines. China, of course, already has a staggering 62 submarines, with around 10 of them being nuclear-powered.

With problems dogging the French Scorpene project, Navy is keen that P-75I gets underway parallely as soon as possible. Under it, all the six submarines will have AIP systems, stealth, land-attack capability and ability to incorporate futuristic technologies.

As was first reported by TOI, the Scorpene project, under which the six submarines were to roll out one per year from 2012 onwards as per the contract inked in October 2005, is running well over two years behind schedule.

A major factor for this delay is the jacking up of prices of `MDL procured material (MPM) packages’ — sensors, propulsion and the like — from around 400 million Euros to 700 million Euros by French company M/s Armaris (DCNS-Thales joint venture). In effect, it’s demanding India pay an additional Rs 2,000 crore to it.

Both Project-75 and 75I are part of the 30-year submarine-building perspective programme approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security a decade ago. The basic aim was to acquire indigenous capability in design, development and construction of submarines, with a total of 24 submarines to be manufactured in a phased manner.

From TOI

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