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A look at the Indian Navy's Project 75I tender to Make in India six diesel-electric submarines

Discussion in 'Indian Navy' started by AKIIN, Dec 6, 2014.

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  1. AKIIN

    AKIIN 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    A look at the Indian Navy's Project 75I tender to Make in India six diesel-electric submarines
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    In late October 2014, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared the long pending Project 75I, a proposal by the Indian Navy (IN) to acquire six diesel-electric submarines (SSK) presumably different in design from the present generation of Scorpenes currently under construction at Mazagon Dockyard Limited (MDL), Mumbai. The proposal is tentatively valued at Rs 50000-80000 crores and involves the manufacture of all six units domestically with foreign technology input. The decision comes nearly four years after the IN first released a request for information (RFI) for this line of submarines and is harmonized with the Modi government's 'Make in India' program in that all six units are to be built in India. This actually represents a departure from the IN's earlier plan which sought to import the first two units from a foreign yard and have four more units of the same design built at Indian yards under collaboration.

    The fact that all six units will have to be built in India means that there might be some changes in the way this project is executed. In the earlier scheme of things the IN was expected to select a foreign 'collaborator' yard based on the capabilities that were on offer, cost and the kind of technology transfer and work outsourcing the same could offer to the two Indian shipyards which would build the remaining units after the first two were imported directly from the overseas yard. The home built units would have seen a three-one breakup between MDL and Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL). Now however, industrial partnerships between foreign collaborators and domestic shipyards may have to be put in place first following which a global RFP could be sent out to foreign OEMs who have put in place credible collaboration to indigenize their proprietary design.

    In any case, it seems that all major shipyards in India have been sounded out to see whether they are keen to participate in this program. Three shipyards of the seven who are being evaluated i.e Goa Shipyard Limited, Cochin Shipyard Limited and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited are unlikely candidates given that they have never worked on submarines and specialize in surface combatants of different types for which they will keep getting steady orders. A fourth yard that has never built a submarine before or serviced one is Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering. Now Pipavav is an interesting candidate in some ways because it has sewed up some agreements with overseas majors to specifically to enter the submarine market and also has the capacity to build many boats simultaneously. However it remains to be seen whether the IN will see it as a strong candidate for the submarine program.

    Of the remaining three, MDL is known to have made a case before the government for continuing their submarine building line, so that the capabilities it has built up as a result of Project 75 ( i.e the Scorpene project) 'do not go waste'. Since all six Scorpene hulls have been fabricated, the hull fabrication unit at MDL is currently lying unused even as it is being oiled in anticipation of new orders.
     
  2. AKIIN

    AKIIN 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    However the idea behind Project 75I was always to get a second submarine building facility in India for strategic reasons. If that still be the case, it is unlikely that MDL will be selected for the Project 75I line. Of course there is a chance that it will get an order to build 3 more Scorpenes sometime in the near future. In fact that may be what MDL needs to be i peace with a Project 75I decision that does not involve it. Although this is mere conjecture.

    That brings us to the two remaining yards in contention for Project 75I namely Larsen & Toubro's (L&T's) Katupalli yard and HSL given their specific experiences in submarine projects. L&T's Hazira facility after all fabricated the hull of the INS Arihant and the other three boats in its class. And HSL has now completed INS Sindhukriti's refit after years of delay (owing in some measure to the Russians demanding their pound of flesh) which has included completely rebuilding parts of the submarine like the conning tower. It has also been involved in the Arihant class build program and was specifically moved to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) from the Ministry of Shipping to build submarines.

    In the earlier scheme of things, two strong contenders would not have been a problem since the IN planned to split the domestic build anyway. Now however proponents of economies of scale are suggesting that all six submarines be built in one shipyard given the investment costs involved. In this a lot of people's eyes are probably on L&T which previously has had supporters in the Navy and whose Katupalli shipyard has very modern facilities that allows ships to be constructed quite quickly.

    Moreover L&T's UG NX5 & PLM Software Team Centre has the capability for design and development of structural and engineering parts. With design inputs from DRDO and the IN's DND, L&T's Submarine Design Centre (SDC) created detailed engineering for INS Arihant, using the latest 3D modeling and product data management software. Moreover L&T builds both torpedo and missile launch systems.

    Be that as it may, according to the Krishnamurthy Committee report no private shipyard in India has the complete capability to design and fabricate a modern quiet relatively deep diving SSK, although L&T may have the 'potential' to do so. Indeed given the features that the IN seeks for Project 75I, it is clear that foreign collaboration will be required for Project 75I to be built quickly. The IN in its RFI states that it wants a submarine that should be capable of operating in both open ocean and littoral waters in a dense ASW and EW environment. Endurance extension through an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system is also desired.

    Project 75I submarines must have torpedo tubes that can launch heavy long range wire guided torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. They must have an externally launched torpedo decoy system. A state of the art integrated combat system featured on a platform with contemporary low noise propulsion and power generation including auxiliary motors with take home capability. An AC system customised for operation in tropical waters characterized by high temperature and humidity conditions is also expected. The submarines will obviously sport a modern integrated platform management system, an automatic power management system and a submarine command system.

    While indigenous sources can provide most sub-systems, packing all this together in a hull form that achieves contemporary quietening standards will require foreign collaboration for the selected yards. As such there are four key foreign collaborators possibly in the fray.
     
  3. AKIIN

    AKIIN 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    DCNS is offering follow-ons to the Scorpene, indicative models of which it has been putting on display in various trade shows, with MESMA AIP and is also trying to stress commonality with the existing project 75 line. Meanwhile Spain's publicly owned Navantia which broke its partnership with DCNS a while ago has been offering the S-80 design with an ethanol based AIP supplied by Abengoa. Navantia also has a tie-up with Lockheed Martin for combat management systems. In India it is known to have been working closely with L&T albeit on surface ship projects.

    Elsewhere in Europe, ThyssenKrupp Marine has offered the HDW Type 214 which is ultimately a descendant of the Type 209, four of which are operated by the IN as the Shishumar class. The Germans will seek to emphasize the stealthiness, AIP capability (PEMFC based) and weapon versatility of their design. Now Russia's Rubin has offered the Amur design on its own and possibly an upgraded S-1000 design in partnership with Ficantieri. There was a time when the aim was to build one line of submarines with Western Bloc philosophy and the other with Eastern Bloc philosophy. If that sentiment still prevails then Rubin may actually end up being the front-runner for Project 75I. This would be especially so if the IN desires a vertical launch system (VLS) plug for these submarines that can fire the Brahmos. Amur models with an eight Brahmos VLS plug configuration have often been featured in trade shows.

    Incidentally besides the Russians, the Germans and Spanish have also approached Brahmos Aerospace (BA) for installing Brahmos VLS plugs on their respective designs were it to win the Project 75I contract. All three seem to be assuring the IN that Brahmos VLS will not affect the stealthiness and motility of their designs.

    The prospect of an AIP equipped Brahmos is of course very attractive for an IN that wants Project 75I submarines to feature land attack and serious standoff anti-ship capability. According to BA, which demonstrated the submerged launch of the Brahmos a while ago, in salvo mode all eight missiles could be fired from the VLS at 3.5 second intervals to attack different targets over a 360 degree azimuth. While that is certainly impressive, the IN also wants Project 75I submarines to perform stock ASW, ISR and special forces support roles. Moreover AIP itself will need room is these modest sized SSKs. So it remains to be seen if the VLS plug option ends up being exercised. There is also the question of cost.

    Fortunately cost concerns related to the AIP system itself have eased somewhat now that DRDO's Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) has readied an indigenous phosphoric acid fuel cell (PAFC) based AIP which has been selected for the last two of the six Scorpenes under construction at MDL. This AIP system will extend submerged endurance to 14 days and generates hydrogen on-board using standard hydrogen rich chemicals like methanol. The ability to produce need based Hydrogen in situ and the exclusion of any combustion process in the system add to the safety of this design since hydrogen need not be stored and nor is there a need for any heavy rotating machinery. This also recommends the stealthiness of the system. If this AIP proves a success on the last two Scorpenes there is every chance of Project 75I fielding this system.

    Project 75I is expected to give India the ability to construct many state of the art submarines simultaneously by seeding another submarine construction line in India. As such L&T at the moment seems a strong candidate for this on account of a variety of reasons. However L&T may have to arrive at a work share agreement with HSL in the interest of sustaining that yard's submarine build capability. Of course if the ongoing move to build at least half a dozen nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) indigenously fructifies quicker, securing work for HSL may not be an issue.
     
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