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In a time when a crucial Make in India project for advanced submarines is making slow progress and the nation is struggling to achieve modernization goals set almost 25 years ago, the defence ministry’s approval to build three more Scorpene-class submarines in the nation with technology from France will help strengthen the navy’s underwater capabilities, according to officials familiar with the situation.

The purchase of the new submarines, which is a follow-up order to an earlier agreement under which Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) has built six Scorpene or Kalvari class submarines with technology from France’s Naval Group under a 23,562-crore programme known as Project-75, was approved on Thursday by India’s defence acquisition council (DAC), led by defence minister Rajnath Singh.

The three submarines will likely be delivered five to six years after a contract is signed, which will help close a critical capability gap as the Project-75(I), which will cost 43,000 crores and will build six more sophisticated submarines for the Indian Navy, is not anticipated to be completed until the 2030s, according to the officials.

Vice Admiral SN Ghormade (Retd), a former vice chief of the navy, stated that “the navy needs to address its urgent operational needs and strengthen its dwindling submarine fleet.” The slow pace of the 30-year submarine-building project established by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 1999 will be partially filled by the three new submarines, he noted.

To stay submerged for a longer period of time, the three submarines will be equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems.

The purchase of new submarines with a higher indigenous content, according to a statement from the defence ministry, “will not only help in maintaining the required force level and operational readiness of the Indian Navy, but also create significant employment opportunities in the domestic sector.” It will also aid MDL in developing its capacity and knowledge of building submarines.

On July 10, the state-owned shipbuilder Navantia of Spain and the large engineering firm Larsen & Toubro signed a contract to submit a combined bid for Project-75(I). The deal puts the businesses up against the German partnership of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and MDL, which agreed to bid for the same project under the strategic partnership (SP) model on June 7.

An Indian bidder for Project-75(I) must team up with a foreign partner to construct six conventional submarines outfitted with AIP equipment. The indigenous content must be at least 45% indigenous in the first submarine and 60% indigenous in the sixth.

One of the largest projects under the Make in India campaign is this one.

The project was approved by India two years ago with the goal of enhancing the navy’s capabilities and igniting a defence indigenization drive. The SP model envisions an Indian company working with a foreign original equipment manufacturer to produce significant defence platforms domestically.

The defence ministry approved two Indian shipbuilders and five foreign shipbuilders to participate in Project-75(I) in January 2020. MDL and L&T were the approved strategic partners from India. The Naval Group, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Navantia, and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Company were among the international yards that were cleared. A year ago, Naval Group and Rubin Design Bureau dropped out of the competition.

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