NEW DELHI: The Scorepene leaks has put the Indian Navy in deep waters. The scandal has detonated depth charges under its plans for the next line, state-of-the-art submarine with cutting-edge attack power. China, which has been expanding both its subcontinental influence and underwater fleet, has 51 conventional and five nuclear submarines at sea compared to India’s 14.
Even Pakistan has 11, which are modern and sophisticated compared to India’s ageing subs. As a counter-move, the Narendra Modi government, determined to boost India’s military capability, in October 2014 cleared Rs 64,000 crore to build six more GenNext subs. This Make in India programme is titled Project-75 (India). Sources said the Defence Ministry is exploring a collaboration between an unnamed foreign player and an Indian shipyard to work for the project. The new submarines will be armed with state-of-the-art land attack missiles and air independence propulsion systems.
A team of Indian Navy and ministry officials are holding a series of discussions with major global players, including DCNS of France, which is currently building Scorepene submarines jointly with Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Limited.
The ministry is worried that the leaks in the Australian media have hit this operation, though Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar played down fears.
However, sources warn Project 75 has initiated a corporate war countdown in the highly competitive global arms market. DCNS had offered its advanced version for Scorpene submarine to India last year. German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems is peddling the HDW Class 214 submarine, after an offer in March this year. Spain’s Navantia S-80 class and Sweden’s Saab Kockums with their A26 submarines are also in the underwater race. The Indian government has its eye on Japanese tech giant Mitsubishi. The irony is that all these players have been on the Indian defence deal circuit for decades. So intense is their rivalry that the Indian Navy is afraid that competitors will leak plans to sabotage projects. The Scorpene Leaks in the Australian media is considered to be an outcome of ‘corporate rivalry’.
In 1999, the Cabinet Committee on Security had approved the Navy’s 30-year indigenous submarine programme to replace the ageing fleet, under which 12 submarines were to be built with foreign collaboration and inducted by 2012. The know-how was to help India build subs indigenously by 2030. Here too, the usual tragedy of Indian defence procurement has hit the Navy’s strike capability. Over 17 years later, not a single submarine has been delivered.