Indian Navy formally launches submarine acquisition program

NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy has issued a request for information for six air-independent propulsion-enabled submarines under Project 75I, a program worth more than $12 billion. However, analysts say the process will take time since the purchase would take place under the new Strategic Parters policy.

The RFI was issued to six foreign shipyards, including Rubin Design Bureau of Russia, Naval Group (formerly DCNS) of France, Navantia of Spain, Saab of Sweden, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and ThyssenKrupp of Germany, eliciting a response on AIP-enabled submarine capabilities.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is a surprise addition, according to an Indian Ministry of Defence official, because Japanese submarines can be expensive.

Once the overseas shipyards respond to the RFI, a formal request for proposal will be issued. Based on the RFP responses, the MoD will shortlist the shipyards, which could take a minimum of two years, the MoD official said.

A strategic partner will be selected from domestic shipyards, and the companies will join to compete for the project under the Strategic Partners policy

“As per the policy document, the overseas shipyards would be shortlisted based on range, depth and scope of technology transfer offered in identified areas, extent of indigenous content proposed [and] extent of ecosystem of Indian vendors/manufacturers,” said Jayant Damodar Patil, the head of Larsen & Toubro’s defense and aerospace division.

”MoD would short list three to four overseas shipyards from amongst the six based on the above criterion,” Patil added.

The Indian Navy is looking for “a proven, effective, state-of-the-art, electric heavyweight torpedo; a land attack missile; and perhaps even an underwater-to-air missile against enemy helicopters and mines,” according to Anil Jai Singh, a defense analyst and retired Indian Navy commodore.

Among the companies that have shown interest in the P75I program and are expected to reply to the RFI:

  • Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems’ HDW Class 214 submarine
  • Rubin Design Bureau’s Amur-1650 sub
  • Navantia’s S-80 class sub
  • Naval Group’s Scorpene platform
  • Saab’s subsidiary Kockums’ A26 sub

“Japan had offered its 4,000-ton Soryu-class diesel-electric attack stealth submarine fitted with a new lithium-ion battery propulsion system for the Australian program. Based on media reports, the lithium-ion battery propulsion system is high on cost as compared to the AIP.” says Patil.

“The P75I program would most probably require a fuel cell-based AIP system,” Patil noted.

Gurnad Sodhi, the managing director at Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems India, said the company is “actively working to respond to the RFI within the given time frame.”

On technology transfer, Sodhi added: “We are willing to partner with any Indian shipyard that the government of India shortlists as the strategic partner.”

Bernard Buisson, the managing director of the Naval Group’s division in India, said: “We would like to believe that future possibilities to associate as foreign OEM [original equipment manufacturer] with possible strategic partner (SP) for any strategic naval project will be a seamless cooperation with real value added,” in terms of naval crafts and the production of submarines.

”The timeline will be as per the planning of MoD and Indian Navy.”

The strategic partner will be selected from domestic shipyards, which are likely to compete in the program and include state-owned Mazagon Dock Limited and the private sector companies Larsen & Toubro and Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited.

”We expect the selection of strategic partner by 2019,” said Patil of Larsen & Toubro.

“The shortlisted Indian companies in turn will have to tie up with the shortlisted overseas shipyards and eventually submit one bid. So a competitive bid is also instrumental before getting finally selected”, MoD official noted.

The acquisition process is considered cumbersome by some officials and analysts.

With so many countries involved, “there are bound to be delays at every step including joint ventures with Indian companies. It will be a good seven to eight years after a deal is signed that the first P75I will roll out,” said Probal Ghosh, a defense analyst and retired Indian Navy captain.

Singh, the retired naval officer, is concerned the submarine program may not work out because the Strategic Partners policy is so young. “That risk (of not fructifying) is very much there.”

The latest RFI is the third of its kind, with one in 2006 and another in 2014 not yielding any results.

Defense News

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