For a stronger navy, India needs to fast-track the submarine project

News: Recently, the French defence major, Naval Group, announced its inability to participate in India’s Project 75-I.

Russian and German submarine builders have also withdrawn from this project earlier.

India’s Project 75-I

Under this project, conventional (non-nuclear or diesel-electric) submarines are to be built domestically.

What are the issues with India’s Submarine project?

Installation of an air independent propulsion system (AIP):  Conventional submarines are propelled underwater by electric-power. The submarine has to periodically expose itself to draw air for running generators that charge their battery-banks. Many European countries are thus trying to develop an air independent propulsion system. India’s contract for license-production of six Scorpenes was without including this system. Whereas Pakistan Navy (PN) may field up to 11 AIP-equipped boats by 2028.

Delays: The programme saw huge delays over contractual issues. The sixth and last submarine was launched in April 2022, a full 17 years after signing of the contract.

Trials: DRDO has developed an indigenous AIP system, based on electrolytic fuel cells. This system produces energy by combining hydrogen and oxygen with only water as the waste product. This AIP system will be subjected to stringent underwater trials before the Indian Navy can accept it. Now the challenge is (a) who will provide a submarine for trials? (b) Who will undertake installation and conduct trials? (c) And most crucially, who in our system will take such crucial decisions in a timely manner?

Now DRDO and its partners have to look for a foreign collaborator for P-75I who will install the indigenous AIP on the selected submarine and conduct collaborative trials.

Previous plans: In 1999, the government accorded approval to a “30-Year Submarine Building Plan,.” The program envisaged the simultaneous serial production of two types of submarines in separate shipyards; 1) advanced submarine of imported design, 2) a home-grown product, designed by our own naval architects with foreign assistance. However, the project was stalled due to delays in decision-making.

Source: This post is created based on the article “For a stronger navy, India needs to fast-track the submarine project” published in Indian Express on 16th May 2022.

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