India MoD sought responses from global giants to construct diesel-electric submarine

The Defence Ministry has issued the much-awaited “request for information” to six international arms majors to construct six conventional diesel-electric submarines under the Project-75I in an Indian shipyard.

Those who received the RFI in sealed envelopes are Rosoboronexport (Russia), Navantia (Spain), Saab (Sweden), ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (German), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan) and Naval Group (formerly French DCNS), sources said.

The chosen original equipment manufacturer will have to partner with an Indian company to produce the underwater boat in an Indian shipyard as P-75I is one of the projects selected for execution under the Defence Ministry's new “Strategic Partnership” model that seeks to encourage the Indian private sector to enter the defence manufacturing business.

The acceptance of the necessity for a second assembly line of submarines was approved way back in 2007. But the scheme underwent several twists and turns in the last 10 years with the incumbent NDA government finally deciding that all of these boats would be built in an Indian shipyard.

The submarines will be fitted with air independent propulsion technology, which will enable these boats to stay longer under the water.

An expert panel under the chairmanship of Vice Admiral A V Subhedar (rtd), former controller of warship production and acquisition in the Indian Navy assessed the capabilities of all Indian shipyards – both public and private sectors – and submitted a report to the defence ministry, which is to take a decision on the shipyard based on its findings.

Way back in 1999, Indian Navy planned to acquire 24 diesel electric submarines over the next 30 years. The plan was modified twice later to incorporate nuclear-powered submarines and the deadlines were modified. But the targets set up even in the 2008-2022 indigenisation plan is way off the mark as Indian Navy currently operates 13 diesel electric and two nuclear-powered boats.

The Rs 18,798 crore project to construct six French-origin Scorpene submarines at Mazgaon Dock is running four years behind schedule. The first submarine INS Kalvari is yet to be commissioned even though all the six submarines are to be inducted by 2019-20. Because of the delay, Navy has undertaken costly refit programmes to extend the life of the existing fleet.

Six advanced submarines, to be built under Project 75(I) to scale up the Navy’s warfare capabilities, are set to get off the starters’ block, with the Navy issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to six foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the €8.3-billion submarine project.

“The Indian Navy has issued an RFI asking competent companies that have independently designed and constructed a modern submarine, which is either currently in service or is undergoing sea trials,” confirmed officials who got the RFI, adding that “the L1 for P-75(I) will most likely be announced only at the end of next year.”

A surprise contender among the six OEMs is Japan’s leading shipbuilders Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which have been “strongly promoting their technological prowess to win contracts to build India’s next generation of submarines,” said sources.

Other than Japan, OEMs from Spain, France, Germany, Russia and Sweden are also in the mix, and have been issued the RFI that details the technical requirements the Indian Navy would like in P-75(I), said sources.

The Navy has issued the RFI to Russian submarine manufacturer Rosoboronexport Rubin Design Bureau, French naval contractor Naval Group (earlier DCNS), Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, Spain’s Navantia and Sweden’s Saab.

“The manufacture of six next-generation stealth submarines has moved to the crucial next stage with this RFI,” said an official, who bagged the RFI, seeking anonymity. “Qualified OEMs, which are the technology provider, will be issued an expression of interest (EoI) much later by the Indian Navy. This (foreign OEMs) is patented under India’s newly-announced Strategic Partnership Model in the Defence Procurement Procedure 2016,” the official added.

Technology transfer
Stating that the long-delayed procedure has got a fresh lease of life with the issuance of the RFI, sources indicated that the foreign OEMs will respond to the RFI “to show how they are qualified to build the six submarines with a partner in India. The OEMs will be transferring important know-how, and actual transfer of technology will be key to ascertain which foreign tech partner teams up with the Indian strategical partner.”

Sources added that though the basic parameters of importance in the RFI was the Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP), “which is very innovative, though dangerous,” details were also sought on the means to increase the submarines’ “endurance and stealth capability, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capability, and land attack capability.”

Among other things, the OEMs were asked to submit data on the proposed design for torpedo tubes, sources said, which could launch heavy-weight torpedoes, missiles and discharge other weapons. They were also asked to elaborate on the transfer of technology they were willing to undertake with regard to the submarine design and construction. The OEMs were asked to detail their plans for the discharge of offset commitments.