New Delhi: The Indian Navy is considering approaching the government for the construction of three more Kalvari class submarines, fitted with long endurance air independent propulsion (AIP) unit, by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) in collaboration with French Naval Group.
The fifth diesel attack submarine 1775 tonne INS Vagir was commissioned by Navy Chief Admiral Hari Kumar on Monday at MDL in Mumbai and the sixth of the Kalvari class INS Vagsheer is expected to be commissioned later this year or early 2024.
According to South Block officials, the Indian Navy is expected to approach the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) soon for acceptance of necessity (AoN) for three more diesel attack submarines under the “Make in India” project with the French Naval Group expected to test the DRDO developed AIP system before fitting in the new submarines. Initially, the Navy had the option to construct three more submarines after contracting six with the Naval group, but this option was cancelled in 2016 after Naval Headquarters wanted the government to clear six submarines under Project 75 (I) or fitted with AIP after floating global tenders.
While the Defence Ministry floated request for information for its Project 75 (I) in August 2021, major submarine design and developers except for South Korea showed little interest in making AIP fitted submarines for India as lithium-ion technology had taken over conventional attack submarines and the big P-5 powers were only making nuclear powered conventional attack submarines or SSNs. Given the possibility of a single vendor option apart from the Modi government totally committed to “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, the Navy went back to the drawing board on the submarine line.
With China rapidly expanding its Navy including nuclear attack submarines, the Indian Navy could ill-afford to keep its functioning submarine construction line at MDL idle while debates went on about the right submarine to acquire for India’s maritime security (a must, given the country’s 7500 km long coastline) . The Kalvari class submarines or Project 75 was approved by the A B Vajpayee government in 1997 and the project was expedited in 1999 after the Kargil War with Pakistan. The first Kalvari class submarine was commissioned 18 years later on December 14, 2017, with the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar urging the Navy to exercise the option for the additional three submarines soon.
It is understood that the Indian Navy’s leadership is now rethinking Parrikar’s proposal and is expected to ask for three more Kalvari class submarines fitted with DRDO’s AIP. The same AIP will be retrofitted into existing Kalvari class submarines when they come to MDL for a mid-life refit.
While the Navy wants three indigenous nuclear attack submarines to expand its footprint in the Indo-Pacific, there is a strong possibility that India and France may collaborate to export Kalvari or Scorpene submarines to countries such as Indonesia. India’s sea based nuclear deterrent is operational with two nuclear powered nuclear ballistic missile armed submarines already patrolling global waters and a third under fitment.