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Given the lengthy process involved in making submarines, it is almost a given that India will experience a serious crisis in the coming years.

Author: Manvendra Singh

India has officially put into service INS Vagir, the fifth of its six diesel-electric Kalvari-class attack submarines. The Project-75 program’s final vessel, INS Vagsheer, is anticipated to be commissioned sometime in 2023, bringing an end to India’s most ambitious conventional submarine project.

When this programme is finished, India won’t have more than 20 active submarines. It still falls far short of what is needed for present and future national security. The lack of a commitment to meet future submarine needs is even more concerning.

A technology transfer agreement between Mazgaon Dockyard Limited in Mumbai and the French manufacturer Naval Group allowed for the production of the Project 75 submarines. The advanced Scorpène-class submarine’s technology has won praise from underwater warriors all over the world.

The multibillion-dollar agreement would serve as a springboard for a more ambitious domestic programme that included plans for additional production runs of contemporary, conventionally powered submarines while India also developed its own nuclear-powered ships.

The third and final option for nuclear delivery is the seaborne platform. The nuclear submarine is, by far, the safest of the three platforms because it is so difficult to detect it in the depths of the ocean.

Situation with just one vendor

The number of conventional submarines in India’s arsenal keeps decreasing even as the country’s nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, cruises the seas. The fleet as a whole is too old for renovation or retrofitting. The Kalvari-class submarine project’s completion left the only option for a continued modern induction programme, which has come to a standstill. The Project 75 (I) programme was to be used to introduce the ensuing submarines. India, represented by the letter “I,” relied on a domestic production line of cutting-edge submarines with stealth features and air-independent propulsion, which increased their range and survivability. Although there was supposed to be a seamless transfer of technology from international partners, manufacturers withdrew as a result.

All of the manufacturers have cited the Ministry of Defence’s Request for Proposals (RFPunreasonable )’s and frequently impossible contractual requirements. The RFP stipulated domestic production and severe penalties for delays by the original equipment manufacturer. India consequently finds itself in a single vendor situation, which is prohibited by the nation’s government auditing system. Decision-makers have been perplexed by this peculiar situation, so the contract deadline was repeatedly extended until it finally expired on December 31, 2022. During the yearly Navy Day press conference, the Chief of Naval Staff gave a reassurance that didn’t hold up.

Given the difficulty of the initial RFP, it is unclear how and when the protracted Project 75 will be approved. There is unlikely to be more than one foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) willing to take the risk unless there is a significant easing of the strict Indian contractual obligations. Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering of South Korea hasn’t formally withdrawn from the competition as of yet, which could result in a single-vendor bidding situation. However, none of the other manufacturers have turned in their RFP responses, which has caused the deadline to be again extended.

The Project 75 production cycle is now complete, and there has been no advancement on the programme that will replace it. As a result, India now has an expensive production line and wasted technical expertise that are idle.

China and the Indian Ocean

In this day and age, no nation could afford such a luxury, especially one as complex as India’s security situation. Even as the third year of its troops’ standoff with China on the Ladakh front approaches, tensions elsewhere along the unmarked border are not decreasing. On the high seas, the one place where India was militarily superior to China, there is now fierce competition.

China currently has 66 submarines in its fleet, a mixture of nuclear and diesel-electric vessels. And they are coming in great numbers. So much so that China is also able to give Pakistan submarines that can use the AIP. Given the protracted lead times involved in manufacturing submarines, it is almost a given that India will experience a serious sub-surface fleet crisis in the coming years. India will eventually find itself falling behind even in the Indian Ocean due to a steadily ageing fleet and the lack of production commitments in the near future.

The Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang 5’s visit to the neighbourhood last year wasn’t just a covert listening operation. It was drawing up future operational routes for Chinese submarines. That near future could not be very far off given the large number of submarines the Chinese navy has at its disposal.

Manvendra Singh is a prominent Congressman.

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