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Monday 22 August 2011

Mazagon sees opening in submersible drift

MDL chief proposes building 3-6 more Scorpenes while the MoD decides on Project 75I

Ajai Shukla
Mazagon Dock, Mumbai
23rd Aug 11

With India's submarine acquisition programme tangled in a decade-old logjam, defence shipyard Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) has staked claim for Project 75I, a line of six advanced submarines for the Indian Navy.

MDL is already building Project 75, for six Scorpene submarines, using technology from Armaris, the Franco-Spanish shipbuilder. It believes the decision-making paralysis that has stymied Project 75I will allow MDL to build at least three, and possibly six, more Scorpenes after completing Project 75.

Project 75I is in the doldrums, after three Ministry of Defence (MoD) committees failed to zero on the Indian shipyards capable of participating in such a project. Besides MDL, already engaged in Project 75, Larsen & Toubro is competing fiercely for Project 75I, flaunting its role in building INS Arihant, the country’s first nuclear submarine. As time has passed without a decision, new contenders, particularly Pipavav Shipyard and the MoD's newly-acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd have also emerged as contenders.

Meanwhile, the MoD is more fuddled than ever after its third and latest high-power committee, headed by V Krishnamurthy, chairman of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, failed to agree on which shipyard(s) should be awarded Project 75I. The MoD is currently pondering the Krishnamurthy committee's divided recommendations. An earlier MoD decision to build three Project 75I submarines at MDL, one at HSL and two in the private sector or abroad now stands scrapped.

With tendering nowhere in sight, the chief of MDL, Vice Admiral (retd) H S Malhi, says their Project 75 Scorpene production line provides a handy springboard for Project 75I. MDL, as Malhi notes, has the facilities, the experience, the workmen and an ongoing workflow that make it easy to extend the six-Scorpene order of Project 75, improving the specifications if the navy so requires.

Malhi mobilises a powerful financial argument: India has already paid Rs 6,000 crore for Scorpene technology. Building additional Scorpenes would only require the payment of licence fees. Choosing another design would require paying for technology afresh.

“If the tender for Project 75I is going to be delayed by another two-three years, we can easily extend the current Scorpene order by another three submarines. Else, Project 75I could be a Scorpene-plus, a more potent submarine, with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and the ability to launch missiles. The technology we have already paid for would be amortised over a larger number of submarines, making these cheaper,” he argues.


Sections of the Indian Navy would welcome more Scorpenes quickly, in the face of a worrisome submarine build-up by China and Pakistan. However, a powerful lobby within the navy, which favours Russian submarines, opposes extending the Scorpene order. They have a potent political argument against ordering more Scorpenes, that Project 75 was not competitively bid but was a controversial, single-vendor purchase. Enlarging the order would be fraught with political risk.

Further, going by the navy's 30-year Submarine Construction Plan, which the apex Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) okayed in 1999, Project 75I must build Russian submarines. The 30-year plan for constructing 24 conventional submarines in India envisages two simultaneous construction lines: one building six submarines from western technology and another building six submarines from eastern bloc (i.e. Russian) know-how. Based on the experience gathered, India would build another 12 submarines to an indigenous design.

Project 75, for six Scorpenes, is the western technology line. The next six must incorporate Russian technology, according to the 30-year plan. Indian Navy submarine folklore believes Russian designs feature greater endurance and firepower; while western designs are stealthier and harder to detect. Indian designers are to incorporate the best of both traditions into the 12 indigenous submarines.

MDL faces flak for a three-year delay in Project 75, but Malhi has strongly defended his shipyard's record. Admitting the first Scorpene would indeed be delivered three years late (in mid-2015, instead of 2012), Malhi says he will deliver the remaining five submarines at eight-month intervals instead of the 12-month interval originally planned. That means all six Scorpenes will be delivered by September 2018, just nine months later than the scheduled completion of Project 75.

MDL plans to achieve this by setting up a second Scorpene line at a recently acquired shipyard, the Alcock Yard, within its premises in Mumbai. After mid-2013, all six submarines will be outfitted simultaneously, the first three in the current workshop, and the next three in Alcock Yard.


  1. The big mouth MDL!!! After so much delay and Indian navy's submarine arm is all time low, why the MoD did not take any action against MDL management? They cannot even build a submarine under ToT?!!!!

  2. Looks like the P-75I is again under the trap of red files and committees, just like scorpene. lol Incompetency at new height.

  3. How can any sovereign country have a policy like "we must buy from Russia"?
    As for our ability to incorporate the best of both traditions into future indigenous submarines, the lesser said the better. Chances are the world would have progressed to the next generation and we will abandon whatever indigenous design we may have like we did with the follow on U209 design in favor of Scorpenes.
    Unfortunately given the current situation we need to allow MDL to build as many subs as they can. Let them continue with Scorpenes production for ever but have a similar second production line in the private sector. No need to have a single indigenous design. Two competing design labs and incessant production lines is what is required to develop international competency. The key lies not in developing a submarine design but submarine industry catering to both domestic and international markets.

  4. If the ultimate aim is to leverage the technical knowhow from both the West and Russia towards developing an indigenous submarine, the ideal choice would be to build 6 more submarines in MDL with an advanced scorpene design with AIP and vertical launch capability and special forces deployment capabilities. While a new project should be started to build 6-10 Russian submarines from the latest Amur class submarines (1850 or 1450 variants) in an Eastern shipyard - either L&Ts, Pipav, HSL or a combination of the three to increase the rate of output while also modernizing and developing all three yards.
    Ultimately the indigenous submarine can be built by MDL while L&T and the rest can focus on the Arihant class and its successors!

  5. Under the 'Background' section in the third paragraph. It begins with western and russian technology and by the end of that paragraph it all becomes Indian.

    The irony was not lost on me... In fact I was absolutely ROFLMAO about this queer state of the Mil Ind complex.

    I think MOD should go ahead with P75i but also insist on making 6 more scorpenes with MDL. Let P75i then go to one of the private shipyards or be shared by all of them.

  6. Ajai sir

    At last some one is talking sense. Its very important that we develop our blue water capability with more subs (AIP, normal and SSN/SSBN). Eventhough the lack of clear policy has started hampering our brown water capability with large gaps in coastal security.

    HS Malhi is correct in saying we must not keep the Scorpene production line idle (atleast 4 more should be built if we are to ever reach anywhere near 24 subs as targeted) or replace it with Russian tech just because it has been so suggested in the 30 year plan.

    After 25 years submarine makers of MDL are shaking off the their rust they accumulated to make 2 HDW subs. It will be a 'harakiri' to expect them to again adapt to Russian tech just because we want to build 12 subs with experience from these. I scared to imagine the 12 subs becoming 'khichdi' subs and not a sleek silent sub with little of this and little of that.

    Just one query any news of INS Sindhukirti when it will be back in service having spent 1/3 of operational life in dry docks of Vizag


    Joydeep Ghosh

  7. Good suggestion..+3 option should be exercised.But the question is, will they deliver on time..? Or, will MoD order these on time..?

  8. How much MDL will make up for expenditure if it has to set up a new production line for making up for lost time? Isn't it the prime reason why MDL is so keen on Scorpion + for P-75I? No matter what situation is and also what Malhi is saying, MDL should not be allowed to force Navy to compromise with all important aspect -design and manufacturing of 12 indigenous submarines- of 30 year plan citing urgency, just for making up for its incompetence(at least initial). Ordering more Scorpions for P-75I means compromise with indigenous design as well as doctrine and should not be allowed to happen, it is after all going to be the very critical part of Navy's blue water ambition.


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