As India begins negotiations with France for three more Scorpene-class submarines, Naval Group has already invested over ₹100 crore for three workshops for maintenance of critical systems of Scorpene submarines which have the tools and infrastructure for important tasks and also stocking spares and is also working on qualifying the Defence Research and Development Organisation- developed (DRDO) Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system for installation on the Scorpenes.
Naval Group and Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for cooperation on three additional Scorpenes on July 6.
“The details of technical features and other parameters, including delivery lead time, will be complied with the MDL as per the requirements of the Indian Navy. Industrial partners, both French and Indian, will provide all necessary support,” Pierre Éric Pommellet, Naval Group Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, told The Hindu.
On July 13, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was entourage to Paris, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh accorded Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the procurement of 26 Rafale-M fighters and three additional Scorpene-class diesel-electric submarines for the Navy from France.
The DAC granted the AoN for procurement of three additional Scorpene submarines under Buy (Indian) category which will be constructed by the MDL and has higher indigenous content, the Ministry had stated.
The three additional Scorpene submarines will also come fitted with the DRDO-developed AIP system to enhance their endurance. “Further, the indigenous content will be higher as several efforts are in place in areas of DRDO AIP, combat system among others. We are assisting the DRDO to integrate their AIP and other indigenous technologies on-board Scorpene designed submarines,” Mr. Pommellet said.
Indigenous AIP module
The Navy has drawn up plans to install Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) modules on all Scorpene submarines as they go for their refit beginning with INS Kalvari likely by end next year to enhance their endurance. The indigenous AIP module has been tested on shore and recently DRDO and Naval Group signed an agreement to integrate the AIP module on the Scorpene.
“We are actively supporting the DRDO in qualifying indigenous supplier of liquid oxygen tank and preparation of the future stage of “jumboisation” [making the new hull, integrate safely the AIP, cut the submarine and join it with new AIP section] during submarine’s normal refit,” Mr. Pommellet said.
In addition to submarines, Naval Group has signed MoUs with Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Visakhapatnam to support their bid for the Navy’s Landing Platform Dock (LPD) ships and with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) to support their midget submarine development.
The Indo-French joint statement issued on July 14 hailed the success of the first Scorpene submarine construction programme and the sharing of naval expertise between companies in the two countries and added, “India and France are ready to explore more ambitious projects to develop the Indian submarine fleet and its performance.”
Six Scorpene submarines are being built under Project-75 by the MDL under technology transfer from Naval Group under a $3.75 bn deal signed in October 2005 and is almost complete. The first submarine INS Kalvari was commissioned in December 2017, second submarine INS Khanderi in September 2019, third one INS Karanj in March 2021 and the fourth one INS Vela joined service in November 2021. “The 6th submarine, Vagsheer, is undergoing trial phases and we expect it to be delivered by early 2024”, Mr. Pommellet added.
The Navy currently has 16 conventional submarines in service. They include seven Russian Kilo-class submarines, four German HDW submarines, five Scorpene-class submarines. With delays in submarine induction, the SSKs - 209s (German HDWs) and EKMs (Russian Kilo’s), are being put through the Medium Refit Life Certification (MRLC) process which will give them additional life of 10 to 15 years, as reported earlier.