MoD tenders for six more submarines, at $1 billion each - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 20 July 2021

MoD tenders for six more submarines, at $1 billion each

Each submarine, equipped with (fuel cell) air-independent propulsion, to cost $1 billion


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 21st July 21


Kick-starting one of the Indian Navy’s most important weapon construction programmes, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a tender on Tuesday for building six conventional submarines, at an Indian shipyard, in technology partnership with a chosen global original equipment manufacturer (OEM).


The MoD has pegged the cost of six submarines at about Rs 43,000 crore. This means that each boat (navies traditionally refer to submarines as “boats”) will cost a staggering $1 billion.


This six-submarine acquisition, codenamed Project-75(I), follows on from the on-going Project 75 – the construction of six conventional Scorpene boats by Mazagaon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), with technology supplied by Naval Group of France. 


Three of the six Scorpenes have already joined the navy’s fleet. The remaining three are expected to join by 2023.


“Project-75(I) envisages indigenous construction of six modern conventional submarines… with contemporary equipment, weapons and sensors including fuel-cell based AIP (air independent propulsion plant), advanced torpedoes, modern missiles and state of the art countermeasure systems,” stated an MoD press release on Tuesday.


Project 75-I will be the first acquisition programme under the MoD’s “strategic partnership (SP) model.” That involves selecting an Indian firm as the SP to oversee and control the project. Two SPs have been shortlisted already: MDL and Larsen & Toubro (L&T). 


The shortlisted SPs are required to submit proposals for building the six submarines in partnership with any of five foreign OEMs the MoD has shortlisted.


The shortlist is: Naval Group from France, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) from Germany, Russian export agency Rosoboronexport, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) from South Korea and Spanish shipyard, Navantia.


“These five foreign firms are the world leaders in the field of conventional submarine design, construction and all other related technologies… Foreign OEMs will enable SP for construction of submarines, achieving high levels of indigenization, and transfer of technology (ToT). These OEMs would enable setting up of dedicated manufacturing lines for these submarines in India by providing ToT for submarine design and other technologies and make India the global hub for submarine design and production,” stated the MoD.


The most complex technological challenge in Project 75 (I) is the integration of AIP systems into the six submarines. An AIP system increases the boats’ underwater endurance and therefore its survivability.


Diesel-electric submarines, such as India’s Kilo-class and Scorpenes, are powered by enormous banks of electric batteries, which drive electric motors that turn the submarine’s propellers. Since batteries get discharged quickly, the submarine must surface every day or two to recharge them by running diesel generators (which require atmospheric air). However, surfaced submarines are visible to radar and, therefore, vulnerable to attack.


Nuclear boats bypass this vulnerability, since they can remain submerged almost indefinitely. However, designing a small nuclear reactor poses major technology challenges. The navy is processing a Rs 90,000 crore project to build six 6,000-tonne, nuclear-powered, attack submarines. However, that could be a decade in the making.


Until these nuclear boats are commissioned, AIP provides an interim solution. Since they do not have conventional batteries that require generator charging, boats with AIP can remain submerged for 10-14 days, reducing vulnerability.


The AIP “fuel cell technology” that the MoD has specified generate power through the reverse electrolysis of oxygen and hydrogen, which are carried on board the submarine. This charges the submarine’s batteries, doing away with the need for a diesel generator.


Citing the stated aims of the SP model, the MoD said: “The project (75-I) would not only aid in boosting (India’s) core submarine/ship building industry but would also greatly enhance manufacturing/industrial sector, especially the MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) by development of an industrial eco-system for manufacture of associated spares/systems /equipment related to submarines.” 


“In order to achieve these objectives, the request for proposals (RFP) has key features like mandatory level of indigenous manufacture of platforms, ToT for design/ manufacture/ maintenance of submarines and a few critical equipment and systems, setting up of an eco-system in India for such indigenisation and incentivisation for other key technologies, etc,” it said.


“The overall aim would be to progressively build indigenous capabilities in the public/private sector to design, develop and manufacture complex weapon systems for the future needs of the Armed Forces,” said the MoD.


The SP model, which is detailed in the Defence Acquisition Policy of 2020 (DAP 2020), is intended to provide a leading role to private Indian firms in building four categories of defence equipment: Submarines, fighter aircraft, helicopters and armoured vehicles.


However, there is resentment amongst private shipyards at the inclusion of defence public sector firm, MDL, in the shortlist for Project 75-I.

1 comment:

  1. Just one comment....AIP fitted submarines also need batteries as AIP is typically auxiliary power source. What AIP mitigates is the need for 'air' to run DGs for charging main batteries.


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