The Defence Ministry has signed a ₹2,725-crore contract with Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), Mumbai, for the Medium Refit with Life Certification (MRLC) of the HDW-class submarine INS Shankush which will extend its life. This is the second HDW submarine that will undergo MRLC with upgrade of the first one, currently in progress, to be completed by August. This is one of seven submarines that are being put through the process as the Navy struggles to maintain its depleting sub-surface fleet.
Meanwhile, the fourth Kilo-class submarine meant to undergo MRLC is awaiting transport to be taken to Russia, which has been delayed due to non-availability of transport docks in the backdrop of war in Ukraine.
The MRLC of INS Shishumar, the first HDW-class submarine to undergo life extension, began on October 1, 2018 and is scheduled to be completed this August, a defence official said. In all, four Russian-origin Kilo-class submarines and three German-origin HDW-class submarines will undergo the MRLC process, officials said.
“Shankush is a Sub-Surface Killer [SSK] class submarine to be re-fitted at MDL, Mumbai. Delivery of submarine post MRLC will be in 2026,” a Defence Ministry statement said. “After completion of MRLC, INS Shankush will be combat-ready and join the active fleet of the Indian Navy with upgraded combat capability.”
Further, the Ministry said that this project is an important step towards development of MDL as Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul (MRO) hub for supporting the industrial ecosystem of India. The project would involve more than 30 Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and lead to employment amounting to “1,200 man-days per day” for the project duration, it added.
The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had originally approved the MRLC programme for six submarines - four Kilos and two HDWs - in August 2014 at a cost of around ₹1,000 crore per boat. So far, three Kilo submarines have undergone the process which extends their life by 10 to 15 years. These include Sindhukesari, Sindhukirti and Sindhuratna.
The first submarine to undergo MRLC was INS Sindhukesari, a Kilo-class submarine commissioned in 1989. INS Sindhukirti underwent refit and life extension at Hindustan Shipyard Limited, Visakhapatnam while INS Sindhuratna was sent to Russia.
However, earlier this year, INS Sindhuratna was stuck in Russia due to non-availability of transport following which the Navy looked for an option to sail it to Norway and then move it in a sea-lift vessel to Mumbai. However, after that too didn’t materialise the submarine reached Mumbai on its own after sailing for 97 days and almost 10,000 miles with two port calls in between in France and Spain. Finding transport to ship the next submarine to Russia is again an issue and the Navy is evaluating options, another defence official said.
The Navy has 16 conventional submarines in service - seven Kilo class, four HDW, and five French Scorpene-class submarines. Of these, the Kilo and HDW are ageing and the Navy has been forced to extend their life as an interim measure, as procurement of new submarines planned under Project-75I has been delayed. In fact, as INS Shishumar sails out of MDL in August, the deadline for submitting bids under P-75I also expires end-August with the joint bid by German submarine manufacturer (OEM) Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and MDL likely to be the sole bid.