October 5, 2022

New submarines under SP Model

The six submarines for which the RFP is being issued now will be the first acquisition by the Indian Navy under the SP Model which was introduced under DPP 2016.

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch (Retd)

On June 4, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh gave its nod to the Indian Navy for issuing the Request for Proposal (RFP) for construction of six conventional, diesel-electric powered submarines under Project P75 (I) through the Strategic Partnership (SP) Model of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020. The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the six submarines, with state-of-the-art Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, was accorded at Rs 43,000 crore (USD5.9 billion) way back in 2015.

The explanation given in media why it took six years between the AoN and approval to issue the RFP is that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) having gone through a selection process among the available private shipyards in the country with infrastructure and financial stability to pursue the project, found only Larsen & Toubro Limited (L&T) met all the parameters. This was not acceptable being single-vendor situation under the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). However, in order to overcome the impasse government has now decided to also allow Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) to also participate in the SP Model programme as a one-off tender. In this context, following points need to be considered:

  • The bar on ‘single vendor’ came over the years because of allegations of corruption and alluding with particular firm.
  • In a situation like above where the submarines are to be constructed by an Indian company under SP Model, either L&T should have been given the go ahead or the same decision to include MDL also taken five years ago. It did not require that long to scrutinise the limited number of indigenous submarine building entities.
  • There is need to amend for DAP 2020 to include a clause for permitting indigenous firms only in specific single vendor situations as above so that operational requirements are not given backseat over red tape. Leasing of weapon platforms under DAP 2020 anyway amount to single vendor, as do government-to-government deal. 
  • The AoN accorded in 2015 was for the six submarines costing USD5.9 billion, which has now jumped to USD7 billion as per a media report. Whether by design or default such financial loss should be unacceptable especially when defence allocations continue to be paltry and capital acquisitions leave little funds for military modernisation.

The six submarines for which the RFP is being issued now will be the first acquisition by the Indian Navy under the SP Model which was introduced under DPP 2016. The MoD statement issued post the DAC approval reads, “This is a landmark approval, being the first case processed under the Strategic Partnership Model. This would be one of the largest ‘Make in India’ projects and will serve to facilitate faster and more significant absorption of technology and create a tiered industrial ecosystem for submarine construction in India. From a strategic perspective, this will help reduce current dependence on imports and gradually ensure greater self-reliance and dependability of supplies from indigenous sources.”

The MoD statement further says, “With accord of this approval, the country will be enabled to achieve its 30-year submarine construction programme envisioned by the government to acquire national competence in submarine construction and for the Indian industry to independently design and construct submarines in India. The availability of new technologies and advanced manufacturing capabilities to the industry will be an important step towards enhancing the nation’s quest for self-reliance in modern conventional submarine construction and sustainment activities whilst creating direct and indirect job opportunities in India.”

The Indian Navy has said that this project under SP Model provides a unique long-term opportunity and planning certainty for the industry to invest and support submarine construction and it will also infuse the latest technology and weaponry for submarines in India through strategic tie up between Indian industry and leading foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

The “30-year submarine construction programme envisioned by the government” in the MoD statement is actually a 22-year old proposal to build six diesel-electric submarines is part of the Navy’s 30-year submarine construction plan for 24 conventional submarines which was accorded approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) years ago. According to media, MoD has instructed L&T and MDL to collaborate with five foreign OEMs; Rubin Design Bureau of Russia, Naval Group of France, Navantia of Spain, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering of Republic of Korea.

According to veteran submariner Commodore Arun Kumar, “If the 30-year plan had been implemented as conceived with approval accorded by the CCS, then the contract for P75 (I) would have been concluded by 2005 and the first submarines under the project would be undergoing medium refit by now. At long last there seems to be a light at the end of a tunnel which has stretched to a 16 year period. A contract which could have been finalised then is still a couple of years away, even if the RFP was issued yesterday. Further, the scheme thought up to pick the collaborator out of five is hare-brained. One hopes that the Project should see the light of the day earliest as our force levels are depleting by the day.” Arun Kumar had steered the 30-year plan while in service.  

The Navy presently has 14 submarines including seven Kilo-class submarines, four SSK or HDW submarines and three Scorpene class submarines. In addition, three Scorpene class submarines are under various stages of construction in the MDL.  The Navy’s lone nuclear submarine INS Chakra is now heading towards its destination point Vladivostok, Russia. According to reports, India did not renew the agreement on the lease of this submarine.

The green signal to the Navy for issuing the RFP for the six submarines is good development but too early to celebrate. Hopefully, L&T and MDL will be given free hand in choosing which foreign OEM to collaborate with under the SP Model – free of bureaucratic skullduggery. Also, the entire process following up on the RFP clearance should not get entangled in more and more red tape in the coming years. This being the first acquisition by our Armed Forces under the SP Model, it should also be a test for how soon these submarines are fielded in the Indian Navy.

-Lt Gen Prakash Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in/

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