India's submarine manufacturing plans remain stuck in a debilitating policy paralysis despite China and Pakistan systematically adding teeth to their underwater combat capabilities.
After going around in circles for two years, it's back to square one as far as the proposed over Rs 50,000 crore 'Project-75 India' to construct six new-generation conventional submarines, armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion (AIP) for greater underwater endurance, is concerned.
Defence acquisitions council headed by A K Antony, on its part, has now given a fresh go-ahead to the naval proposal to directly import two of the six diesel-electric stealth submarines from the foreign collaborator eventually selected for P-75India. The remaining four boats will be built at Mazagon Docks (MDL) at Mumbai and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) at Visakhapatnam after transfer of technology.
This marks a return to the original decision taken in early-2010, which had run aground due to squabbling between Navy and MoD's defence production department. "P-75India should have got going several years ago. With so much delay in even finalizing its contours, India cannot hope to induct these submarines anytime before 2022 at the earliest now,'' said a source.
With MoD deciding to keep the private sector out of the immediate submarine production plans, a scramble is in progress to "ready'' the case for fresh approval by CCS. "The global tender (request for proposal) can only be floated after the CCS nod since two submarines have to be imported. Moreover, the AoN (acceptance of necessity) for P-75India lapses in August,'' said the source.
Navy, incidentally, had all along pushed for importing the first two submarines to make up for lost time. But others in the defence establishment argued the 30-year submarine building plan, as approved by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in July 1999, envisaged that all 24 vessels would be manufactured in India, the first 12 with transfer of technology from foreign collaborators and the next 12 indigenously.
But 13 years later, not even one new submarine is anywhere close to induction. Even Project-75, under which six French Scorpene submarines are being constructed at MDL for Rs 23,562 crore, is running three years behind the original 2012-2017 induction schedule.
Second, there were major differences on the shipyards, public as well as private, that would execute the second line of submarines under P-75I. After three committees over two years, first led by a joint secretary, then the defence secretary and finally by technocrat V Krishnamurthy, which also assessed the capabilities of private shipyards like L&T, Pipavav and ABG, and intervention by the PMO, the end result has come to naught.
Amid all this rigmarole, India is left with just 10 ageing Russian Kilo-class and four German HDW submarines, with just over half of them being fully operational at any given time. Projections show only five of the existing 14 submarines will be operational by 2020. India, even with six new Scorpenes by then, will remain far short of the minimum of 18 conventional submarines required to deter Pakistan and China.