Indian Navy may repeat Kalveri class submarine order
Indian Navy is all set to bury fresh acquisition under Project 75 I and may go for repeat Project 75 order to MDL with DRDO proven and tested air independent propulsion system fitted into the new submarines under “Aatmanirbhar Bharat.”
New Delhi: When visionary Manohar Parrikar was the Defence Minister of India, he had suggested to then Navy Chief Admiral Robin K Dhowan that Indian Navy should exercise the option of three more Kalveri (Scorpene) class rather than go for fresh acquisition of six of Project 75 I, air independent propulsion equipped, submarines. Admiral Dhowan did not agree because of which the options clause for Project 75, which was approved by Atal Behari Vajpayee government way back in 2003, was cancelled in September 2016.
On July 20, 2021, the Ministry of Defence floated a request for proposal (RFP) for AIP equipped six Project 75 I class submarines at the cost of ₹40,000 crore. Since it is normal for Indian military-civilian bureaucracy to take at least 10-15 years to complete any big acquisition, it means that the current Scorpene submarine line at MDL will go to seed with the next set of 75 I class being built in late 2030s with a fresh massive investment on submarine line. All this appears to be set for a change.
In the meantime, the AIP equipped submarines have been superseded by the latest Soryu class Japanese submarines with higher endurance lithium-ion batteries with faster re-charge capabilities. The lithium-ion batteries have double the storage capacities of traditional lead acid batteries because of which the range of the submarine increases considerably. Given that the French have moved to nuclear propulsion and the German to lithium-ion technology ahead of AIP submarine technology, the Modi government most likely will end up with a single vendor option with South Korea being the only country building AIP submarines. Simply put, this means that by the time the Indian bureaucracy finalizes the vendor, the technology will be outdated and outclassed by the rapidly advancing Chinese PLA Navy.
With PLA Navy rapidly advancing into Indo-Pacific and the QUAD preparing to meet the challenge, the Indian Navy’s leadership is rethinking on its submarine options and may ask the Modi government to repeat the order of Kalveri class submarines with DRDO proven and French Naval Group tested AIP system fitted into the next six submarines. The Indian Navy’s big picture plan for the next 25 years includes design, development, and construction of three nuclear power conventionally armed submarines or what is called nuclear attack submarines or SSNs.
India currently has two nuclear powered ballistic missile fir8ing submarines or SSBNs with the third one under fitment.
The repeat order of Kalveri class submarines will ensure that Indian submarine building and machine tooling skills do not die after the last of Kalveri class submarines is commissioned this year and MDL later exports the same submarines to other countries in Southeast Asia like Indonesia and in Africa. The way out is to give a quiet burial to Project 75 I and build on existing Project 75 with indigenous DRDO developed AIP. The same AIP can be later retrofitted into Kalveri class submarines during mid-term life upgrade. Given that China is launching six to ten warships including submarines each year, India has no other option of meeting the Indo-Pacific challenge.