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INS Vela, the fourth Kalvari class attack submarine, was commissioned into the Navy in November 2021.

The Indian Navy is preparing to bury a new acquisition under Project 75 I and may issue a repeat Project 75 order to MDL with a DRDO-proven and tested air independent propulsion system fitted into new submarines under “Aatmanirbhar Bharat.”

New Delhi: When Manohar Parrikar was India’s Defence Minister, he advised then-Navy Chief Admiral Robin K Dhowan that the Indian Navy should acquire three more Kalvari (Scorpene) class submarines rather than six new Project 75 I air independent propulsion equipped submarines. Because Admiral Dhowan did not agree, the options clause for Project 75, which was approved by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet in 2003, was revoked in September 2016.

On July 20, 2021, the Ministry of Defence issued a request for proposal (RFP) for six Project 75 I class submarines outfitted with AIP at a cost of 40,000 crore. Because it is typical for the Indian military-civililian bureaucracy to take at least 10-15 years to complete any large acquisition, the current Scorpene submarine line at MDL will go to seed with the next set of 75 I class submarines being built in the late 2030s with a fresh massive investment on submarine line. All of this appears to be about to change.

Meanwhile, the AIP-equipped submarines have been surpassed by the most recent Soryu class Japanese submarines, which have longer-lasting lithium-ion batteries with faster recharging capabilities. Because lithium-ion batteries have twice the storage capacity of ordinary lead acid batteries, the submarine’s range is significantly increased. Given that the French have shifted to nuclear propulsion and the Germans to lithium-ion technology in front of AIP submarine technology, the Modi administration will almost certainly end up with a single vendor option, with South Korea being the only country manufacturing AIP submarines. Simply put, by the time the Indian bureaucracy selects a vendor, the technology will be obsolete and surpassed by the quickly evolving Chinese PLA Navy.

With the PLA Navy rapidly advancing into the Indo-Pacific and the QUAD preparing to meet the challenge, the Indian Navy’s leadership is reconsidering its submarine options and may request that the Modi government repeat the order of Kalveri class submarines with DRDO proven and French Naval Group tested AIP systems fitted into the next six submarines. The Indian Navy’s long-term plan calls for the design, development, and building of three nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines, sometimes known as nuclear attack submarines or SSNs.

India currently has two nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarines (SSBNs), with a third in the works.

The repeat order of Kalvari class submarines will ensure that Indian submarine building and machine tooling skills do not die after the last of Kalvari class submarines is commissioned this year and MDL later exports the same submarines to other countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia and in Africa. The way out is to give a quiet burial to Project 75 I and build on existing Project 75 with indigenous DRDO developed AIP. The same AIP can be later retrofitted into Kalvari class submarines during mid-term life upgrade. Given that China is launching six to ten warships including submarines each year, India has no other option of meeting the Indo-Pacific challenge.

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