Scorpene takes to water but India needs more submarines quickly

The sea trials of the first Scorpene, which mark a movement on the development cycle of the submarine, needs to be followed by an accelerated implementation of the plan already in place.

‘Kalvari’, the first of the Scorpene class submarines, built at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd Mumbai (MDL), went to sea for the first time on Sunday. According to the details given out by MDL, the submarine sailed out at about 1000 hours under her own propulsion for the first sea trial, off the Mumbai coast and during the sortie, completed a number of preliminary tests on the propulsion system, Auxiliary Equipment and Systems, Navigation Aids, Communication Equipment and Steering gear. The submarine then returned to harbor in the evening after having undergone the standard operating procedures.

The maiden sea trial of the first Scorpene submarine certainly marks a milestone in the development phase of this conventional submarine. And while the trials will be followed by a number of other sea trials such as surface trials, diving trials, weapon trials, noise trials besides others which would test the submarine to the extremes of its intended operating level, the phase paves way for five other subs which will follow the lead of Kalari.

India joined the exclusive group of submarine constructing nations on February 7, 1992, with the commissioning of the first Indian built submarine INS Shalki. Mazagon Dock then went on to commission another submarine, INS Shankul, on May 28, 1994. And while these submarines are still in service even two decades after they were commissioned, the worrying fact is the dwindling number of submarines in India’s sub-surface arm.

In 1999, the Indian Navy drew a Submarine Acquisition Plan, a 30 year roadmap that had envisaged 12 submarines by 2012 and the number was expected to double by 2029. Thanks to the delays in acquisition, the plan is nowhere near completion. In fact, the number of operational submarines in the Indian Navy are down to a handful, owing to the mishaps that marred the operational capability of the existing platforms. While its only nuclear submarine INS Chakra was leased from Russia, leasing of the second submarine and the actual induction of India’s own under- development submarine is yet to be a reality.

The sea trials of the first Scorpene, which mark a movement on the development cycle of the submarine, needs to be followed by an accelerated implementation of the plan already in place. The most immediate being project 75 i, a follow up of the Scorpene class which is derailed due to the delay in announcing Make in India guidelines in the Defence Procurement Procedure. Whether the government follows up with the pace it promised, thus remains to be seen.

Timeline and details:

# The ongoing project for the construction of six Scorpene class submarines, has M/s DCNS of France, as Collaborator and includes ‘Transfer of Technology’, with M/s MDL as the ‘Builder’.

# Kalvari would be commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Kalvari later this year.

# The state-of-art features of the Scorpene include superior stealth and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons. The attack can be launched with torpedoes, as well as tube launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on surface. The Stealth features give it invulnerability, unmatched by many submarines.

# The Scorpene Submarine is designed to operate in all theatres including the Tropics. All means and communications are provided to ensure interoperability with other components of a Naval Task Force. It can undertake multifarious types of missions typically undertaken by any modern submarine i.e Anti-Surface warfare, Anti-Submarine warfare, Intelligence gathering, Mine Laying, Area Surveillance etc.

# The Scorpene is equipped with Weapons Launching Tubes (WLT), and can carry weapons on board which can be easily reloaded at sea, through special handling and loading equipment. The array of weapons and complex sensors fitted on board the Scorpene are managed by a high technology Combat Management System, which integrates various diverse systems fitted onboard into One Formidable Whole.

‘Kalvari’ : The Tiger Shark

Kalvari is the dreaded Tiger Shark, a deadly deep sea predator. As is the tradition, ships and submarines of the Navy, are brought alive after decommissioning. The first Kalvari, which was also the first Indian submarine, was commissioned into the Indian Navy on December 8, 1967. She was decommissioned on May 31, 1996 after almost 30 years of yeoman service to the nation. In true nautical traditions, she will now be re-incarnated, by Mazagon Dock, once again a powerful predator of the deep, guarding the vast maritime interests and areas of our nation.