It is official. Gloomy days aren’t over for the Scorpene submarine project. Plagued by years of delays and subsequent cost overruns, the project being executed by defence shipyard Mazagon Dock in Mumbai has missed the deadline once again, dealing a body blow to the Navy’s desperate effort to pull its impuissant submarine arm out of the trough.

The French-origin submarines, being built under a transfer of technology (ToT) contract, will not be available for induction into the submarine-starved Navy in 2015, as promised by the yard. The revised target for delivery of the first of the six Scorpenes is September 2016, with the remaining hopefully entering service at the rate of one submarine every 12 months thereon.

“We have set a new target of September 2016 for delivery of the first Scorpene,” confirmed Rear Admiral (retd.) Rahul Kumar Shrawat, Chairman and Managing Director of Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) during an interaction with The Hindu in Kozhikode recently. Rear Admiral Shrawat says orders for the third and final batch of 178 high-value items — outfitting equipment that gained an unsavoury reputation as MDL-Procured Material (MPM) after the yard’s cumbersome and hazy procurement procedures held up the project for over two years — was placed on DCNS, the original manufacturer of the Scorpenes, in November last year.

The orders were placed on a single contractor to save the yard from the burden of having to deal with a large number of foreign vendors. The process inter alia ensured transparency and ease of procurement, Rear Admiral Shrawat said explaining the delay.

The Navy, however, is livid over the yard’s persistent disregard for deadlines. Top Navy officials rue that by the time the Scorpenes are commissioned, they would be obsolete. The first three Scorpenes will not even have air independent propulsion (AIP), a technology that enhances underwater endurance of submarines several times over, they point out. Without AIP, submarines are forced to surface once in a few days to recharge their batteries, a process when they are most susceptible to detection.

The contract for construction of the Scorpenes was inked in 2005, with the first originally slated for delivery in 2012. MDL’s long-drawn procurement processes and sluggishness in technology absorption gave the projects hiccups at the start itself. Meanwhile, the project cost grew exponentially from the original Rs.18,798 crore to Rs. 23,562 crore in 2010 with a renewed timeline.

Another roadblock

DCNS’ takeover of Armaris, the company with which the contract was signed, contributed to the complexities in sourcing of stipulated equipment. The project faced another roadblock with the yard failing to renew its technology assistance contract with the Spanish Navantia, co-developer of the Scorpenes, early this year.

While the country head of DCNS, in an interview with The Hindu in April, gave an assurance of “technical assistance [to the project] beyond contractual obligations,” it is believed that any further hold-up would result in the company making a plea for extra fee.

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