India’s conventional submarine fleet strength is precariously low at 13 vessels. Yet, the Defence Ministry mandarins feel it is right to let Rs 50,000-crore government approvals for a new six vessel fleet lapse.
The Defence Ministry’s acquisition council, headed by Union Defence Minister A K Antony, had accorded the Acceptance of Necessity (AON), a key decision accepting the Navy’s need for new submarines, in July 2010. Since then, the AON has lapsed twice, the latest in March, forcing the Navy to process a fresh request for approvals, Defence Ministry sources said.
“The AON has lapsed because the tender (Request for Proposals or RfP in defence parlance) was not issued within the two-year period. So, the AON has lapsed and fresh approvals have to be obtained for the AON now,” the sources said.
“It is now obvious that the cost of the project will increase, mainly due to the escalation in prices of the vessels in the last two years and the fluctuation in the value of the rupee,” they added.
The country currently has 14 diesel-electric submarines in its fleet -- 10 Russian-origin Kilo class vessels and four HDW German-origin vessels --apart from one nuclear-powered vessel borrowed from Russia on a 10-year lease.
China, on the other hand, has 60 diesel-electric submarines and 10 nuclear-powered vessels in its fleet, while Pakistan has only eight conventional submarines.
The Navy’s fleet strength is down from 17 submarines it had till about the middle of the last decade, when the last three of the eight Foxtrot vessels were decommissioned.
The latest delay in tendering for the new line of submarines has got the Navy worried more, as it fears that its submarine fleet strength will fall by 30 per cent from its existing strength by 2015 and by 50 per cent by 2020, at this rate of induction of new vessels.
The reason for this apprehension is the three-year delay in the existing project to build six Scorpene submarines for the Navy at Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks Limited, all due to procedural time overruns in the purchase of materials required for the project by the defence public sector shipyard. Usually, a submarine is put to best use in the first 20 years of its life.
The Kilo class and HDW class vessels that were inducted into the Navy in 1986 have completed their best years nearly a decade ago. Yet, the Navy is pushing them to serve the force till the new submarines are inducted to replace them.
India has a 30-year plan for inducting 24 new submarines that was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 1999 during the NDA Government. But, that plan has now gone haywire, with not a single new vessel inducted in the one-and-half-decade since.
The 30-year plan for the 24 vessels had been divided into three batches --the first batch was to be the six Scorpene submarines, followed by the second batch of six submarines under Project 75I and the third batch of 12 submarines built indigenously from technologies acquired from the Scorpene (called Project 75) and Project 75I projects.
Under Project 75I, India will buy the first two of the six submarines from a foreign shipyard which will construct the vessels and deliver them to the Navy.