Late and over-budget, fourth Scorpene submarine is launched - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 6 May 2019

Late and over-budget, fourth Scorpene submarine is launched

INS Vela at its launch ceremony on 6th May 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th May 19

Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vela, the navy’s fourth Scorpene submarine, was launched into the water in Mumbai today. Mazagon Dock Ltd is assembling six Scorpene submarines in partnership with French shipbuilder, Naval Group (formerly DCNS). 

The first Scorpene (French for Scorpion), INS Kalvari, was commissioned into operational service by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 14, 2017. The second and third, INS Khanderi and Karanj, will join the fleet soon, after completing their on-going sea trials. 

The remaining two boats (as submariners refer to their vessels) are at an advanced stage of outfitting and would be delivered by mid-2021.

“[INS Vela] will undergo rigorous tests and trials, both in harbour and at sea, before delivery to the Indian Navy,” announced the defence ministry after the launch.

Naval operational planners are welcoming the Vela, given their dire shortage of submarines. Against a requirement of 24 conventional submarines, the navy makes do with just 13, which include four HDW German-origin, Shishumar-class boats that are in their fourth decade of service. There are also nine Russian Kilo-class boats, some of them older than three decades.

This shortfall of submarines is exacerbated by the six-year delay in Project 75, as the Scorpene programme is called. The contract in 2005 required all six Scorpenes to be delivered by 2015. Navy sources say even 2021 is an optimistic target now.

Time overruns are accompanied by cost overruns. The original Rs 18,798 crore cost of six Scorpenes has now gone up to Rs 23,562 crore. 

In wartime, the navy’s surface warships – aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes – obtain “sea control”, by dominating the ocean with superior numbers, sensors and firepower. Meanwhile the submarine fleet engages in “sea denial” by preventing enemy warships and submarines from leaving harbour, or entering the waters in India’s vicinity.

In a hypothetical conflict with China, Indian submarines would block the Chinese navy from crossing from the South China sea into the Indian Ocean by interdicting the major south east Asian straits – Malacca, Lombok, Sunda and Ombai Wettar.

In a war with Pakistan, the Scorpenes would operate in the shallow Arabian Sea, where large submarines cannot move freely. They could blockade Pakistani harbours, or prevent shipping from West Asia from entering the Arabian Sea.

A submarine’s key attribute is stealth, since it can be torpedoed once detected. Stealth comes from reducing noise from the engine and the boat’s internal systems. The Scorpenes have a quiet “Permanently Magnetised Propulsion Motor” that drives it underwater at 20 knots (37 kmph), or 12 knots (22 kmph) when surfaced.

Confusion has attended the purchase of torpedoes, the Scorpene’s primary weapon. The navy had chosen the Black Shark torpedo, built by Italian firm, WASS. But the defence ministry banned contracts with Leonardo group companies (including WASS) after Italy began investigating corruption by Agusta Westland (a Leonardo company) in selling VVIP helicopters to India.

Consequently, the Scorpenes make do with the old, Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) torpedo, acquired in the 1980s for the four Shishumar-class submarines. 

Besides the outdated SUT torpedo, the Scorpenes carry MBDA Exocet SM39 missiles – a deadly option for striking ships and targets ashore.

There were plans to equip the last two Scorpenes with “air independent propulsion” (AIP), allowing them to remain underwater for much longer, making them harder to detect. But, with the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) late in developing an indigenous AIP, the plan has been pushed back to the next six submarines that will be constructed under Project 75-I.  

Naval tradition holds that warships inherit names from earlier, illustrious vessels. The Scorpenes have taken their names from the Foxtrot-class submarines that India bought from the Soviet Union, which were decommissioned at the turn of the century. The first four Foxtrots, commissioned between 1967-1969, were INS Kalvari, Khanderi, Karanj and INS Karsura. The second batch, commissioned between 1973-1975, included INS Vela, Vagir, Vagli and Vagsheer.


  1. Late and overbudget primarily due to the nincompoop govt that governed India from 2004 -14..which saw no increase in submarine numbers. I really wish that UPA doesnt return to power. Not only in submarines but across the board their policy paralysis affected the forces plsns and set them back by many decades. This govt is trying its trying its best to make up for the lost time.

  2. NSR says ---

    I followed articles on Scorpene submarines and Black Shark Torpedoes for long time..

    Former RM and Mauna Vratham Antony and his Mauna Deeksha PM MMS were sleeping when the Spain technical engineers were leaving and left... and all the schedules got fouled up... No TOT happened ….

    May be if France offers fool proof guarantee of Scorpene TOT then order six more with Indian AIP on the assumption that India will get to build 100% say in 5 years time frame...

    So India can keep building the Scorpene with some modifications to guard against data theft should let India reach 24 Nos...

    If Italians makes compromise like South Africans and gets out of sanctions, then they can sell Black Shark Torpedo with TOT too...

    P-75I is too far away and do not even think about it... it will be like MMRCA...

  3. Just remember to always close the hatch of this boat before diving.
    How is the dysfunctional from start Arihant
    When will DRDO have a fully functional SLBM

  4. Getting/buying more and more sophisticated vessels is the the easier part....maintaining them in fighting fit form is another matter. Here we fall woefully short. We Indians are well known for taking short cuts, 'Jugads" false entries in log books etc. The result is our PETYA Class can go out to sea in fine weather and SINK in peace time. Our newly upgraded submarine can be destroyed while moored alongside the naval yard.... our Ship of the Line - INS Vikramaditya can have fire aboard and and a young officer loses his life fighting fires... there have been many professional failures as well. Number of IN ships that touch bottom/run aground/have contact with other ships is unbelievable. With this state of poor operations and training standards, who needs enemies?
    Long ago, when we received a new class of missile corvettes, an exercise was carried out to show the effectiveness of the air defence missile SA-N-5 Grail. One of the IN ships fired a dummy missile in the vicinity of the Corvette and the SA-N-5 was supposed to lock on automatically and interdict. With several members of the press, some senior naval officers as observers and even two retired admirals on board, there was a total panic on board when the interdicting missile would not fire after locking on. last minute change over process to fire manually also failed.... the when everyone was holding their breath - and could visually see the oncoming missile... SA-N-5 suddenly fired and saved the situation. Later it was found out that routine checks on the equipment were not properly carried out.

    We seem to be doing well only because in our neighborhood, the other navies are similar in proficiency or even lower.

  5. "The remaining two boats (as submariners refer to their vessels)"

    Something to do with the number of decks I think, originally.
    Submarines just had a single deck, so were boats, ships had deck, above deck, and below deck.

  6. we must have a fixed rate fixed time contract system like the USA.
    penalise MDL and all others who do not adhere to the timeline!!
    contract signed in 2005 sees completion in 2021, what a joke!!
    give MDL 6 more boats and give L&T 6, everybody happy and after that only make boats with nuclear propulsion...


  7. We are not using our subs effectively.
    The Pakistan Navy on the other hand, uses their quiet Chinese supplied diesel electric submarines effectively and puts them hard at work,
    Gathering tonal and magnetic signatures of shipping out of Indian ports, acting as eyes and ears for ISI, monitoring Indian fleet movement, performing signal interception and other SIGINT tasks.
    In addition Pakistan subs have the ability to cut India’s under ocean internet cables.
    For example the following cables out from Bombay are vulnerable, here is the list I have cut and pasted.
    * Asia Africa Europe-1 (AAE-1)
    * Bay of Bengal Gateway (BBG)
    * Europe India Gateway (EIG)
    * FALCON
    * FLAG Europe-Asia (FEA)
    * Gulf Bridge International Cable System (GBICS)/Middle East North Africa (MENA) Cable System
    * IMEWE
    * SEACOM/Tata TGN-Eurasia
    * SeaMeWe-3
    * SeaMeWe-4
    Better then cutting fibre optic cables is Pakistan’s technical ability to tap into these cables making the entire Indian national browsing, e mail etc.. compromised.
    This, rumour and gossip has it, has provided Pakistan which such a flood of data that converting it into information is quite the task. Yes! You Modi Bhakts, the Pakis know the number of times and which porn sites you visit.
    One hopes RAW is on the job taking counter measures.
    *** Speaking of cables, in a certain Indian sub, a rat was discovered on board because the rat guards on the mooring cables were missing, which on the face of it can be quite serious, given the compulsive rodent habit of gnawing electrical cables in order to keep their ever growing teeth short.

  8. Correction to my previous post, the recovery and splicing of an under ocean internet cable can only be done by a submarine when on the surface, the process is as simple as using a grappling cable with a hook, pulling the fibre optic cable on board and splicing it by attaching a independently powered fibre cable box with a mirror addition replicating the beam to storage drives, there is open source literature on these units being recovered and replaced by submarines directed by the American NSA. Using a submarine instead of a cable ship, enables it to be done surreptitiously in a procedure which can take less than three hours.

  9. Late and over Budget thanks to Govt in power from 2004 to 2014.

    By the way there is news floating that one backops directors has got offset deal in Scorpene, you need to carry that news

  10. A submarine would have a fitted temp extension and modified hatches to carry the cable recovery and cutting equipment, if they have managed to do so it’s only by bending the fibre, causing signal radiation to be tapped. Enough light to detect with suitable imaging optics and photodetectors and not enough to cause a fault alarm.

  11. Chinese diesel submarine with Pakistani engineers, or Chinese submarine, to intercept ocean cables but much easier to just cut without interception.
    I myself am in a previous employment in company which has collaboration Global Marine, BSNL and if they cut ocean cable and if enough other ones then we have little redundancy for traffic.
    It would take two week for repairs or many more. Internationally Internet traffic will slow be very slow because all TCP/IP packets designed to take a different route not damaged but this will cause severe traffic congestion, too slow for telephone calls, what’s app or important functions like email attachments will take hours to download.

  12. What's that tourist feku doing even after 5 years his cloud covers the nation,still no modern torpedoes,towed sonars,old decrepit helos,if present at all,accidents galore in the IN. I mean seeing a few countries is understandable but with the economy tanking,unbelievable unemployment present in the country,violence everywhere, foreign policy more of a joke,environment gone from bad to worse,cronies like his favs Ambani and Adani getting fatter contracts by the day,neighbours stomping all over us,his and his retard bhakts verbal diarrhea; like what is he upto seriously?What was the nation thinking when they got him elected?

  13. Indians seem to be only good at declaring their intentions to build this and that in advance and then get them done (if ever) after a decade or two. This attitude has to go if India wants the other countries in the region to respect and look up to it for their defence needs.


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