Germany, Russia, And Now France! Why Does The Indian Navy’s Plan To Acquire Powerful Submarines Failing To Find Partners?

According to information revealed by French media Mer et Marine on April 29, 2022, the French company Naval Group has withdrew from the competition for the Project-75I submarine, perhaps putting a damper on the manufacturing plans.

The Indian Navy’s Project 75 (India)-class submarines, abbreviated as P-75I, are a planned class of diesel-electric submarines. In July of last year, the Defense Ministry ordered the building of six submarines. The total cost of the project is anticipated to be around 43,000 crores (around $43 billion).

The P-75I class is the Indian Navy’s successor to the P-75 Scorpene-class submarines, the last of which was launched earlier this month in Mumbai by Indian Defense Secretary Ajay Kumar.

Advanced capabilities such as air-independent propulsion (AIP), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), special operations forces (SOF), anti-ship warfare (AShW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), land-attack capabilities, and other features are expected to be included in the six conventional diesel-electric attack submarines.

Under the ‘Make in India’ plan, all submarines will be built in India. On January 21, 2020, the government announced Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) as the two Indian finalists in the P-75I competition.

In addition, some overseas Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) were nominated as finalists in the P-75I project. Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Spain’s Navantia, France’s Naval Group, and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipping & Marine Engineering (DSME) all made the cut.

The French departure, for which no reason was given, comes just two months after Russia’s withdrawal from the competition in February.

The Russians offered India modernised Kilo-class submarines, which make up the majority of India’s current conventional fleet, but they dropped out of the P-75I project due to ‘technical’ issues.

Furthermore, reports from August of last year stated that Germany was hesitant to participate in the competition due to worries about the Request for Proposal.

According to some reports, hardly a month after the Request for Proposal (RFP) was posted, the German side informed the Indian government of its reasons for not participating in the competition.

After multiple unjustified delays and setbacks, the P-75I project has been in limbo for some time. The government had to extend back the bid submission date from November 2021 to June 2022, according to a top official of India’s largest submarine manufacturer, after the majority of outside participating businesses found it hard to meet the original deadline.

If the bids had come in November, the submarines’ field evaluation trials would have started in mid-April 2022. The government would have another two years to consider the idea now that it has been presented in June before setting orders by the end of 2024.

Furthermore, the government has yet to issue approvals to participating foreign corporations, implying that further delays are possible in an already sluggish process.

The OEMs who have been nominated must choose between the two Indian shipyard finalists. Rather than being split between the two Indian companies, the order for all six submarines will be given to the lowest bidder (L1). Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders, for one, has the capacity to build 11 submarines at the same time in its Mumbai facility.

The disillusionment and departure of foreign competitors has been a major setback for the Indian Navy’s P-75I programme.

ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) of Germany, the project’s frontrunner, expressed worry just a month after the RFP was posted that several conditions, such as a high indigenous content share and practically unlimited liability on the foreign technology partner, could be impossible to achieve.

The corporation was reportedly dissatisfied with limits such as the indigenization content requirement, which was set at 45 percent for the first submarine and 60 percent for the sixth.

The terms placed a virtually endless liability on the foreign partner for the submarines’ performance, despite the fact that the submarines are to be built in an Indian yard. This was a major concern resolved. The Rs 43,000 crore budget was also criticised as being insufficient.

The Swedish corporation had already pulled out after the draught memo on technical criteria was circulated, with insiders alleging that its engineers and management found the terms difficult to meet.

The French submarine offered does not apparently meet the criterion of Lithium cell Air-Independent Propulsion, despite the Naval Group’s refusal to specify a reason for abandoning the competition after nearly a year. That is a critical technical requirement for India.

Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha of the EurAsian Times spoke with the EurAsian Times to put the French giant’s withdrawal into context (retd). “If they’ve withdrawn, the remainder will remain as contestants if the Navy seeks RFP,” he said. More information is needed to determine whether the Navy will proceed with the current concept. We’ll have to wait for more information on this.

I also understand that, with the exception of South Korean Submarine, which has a proven Lithium Cell AIP, all other bidders have withdrawn, either due to a failure to meet technical QRs or due to the GoI’s responsibility clause. As a result, the 75 (I) is left with only one vendor. The government will have to make a decision. “It’s likely that the destiny of 75(I) is in jeopardy,” he continued.

The exit of the French Naval Group could be disheartening because it was this business that supplied technology to India in order for the Mazgaon Dockyard Limited to manufacture the Scorpene-class submarines.

Furthermore, the statement came only days before the Indian Prime Minister’s planned visit to France. However, it would be premature to speculate on whether the deal might be renegotiated.

The Indian Navy has a 30-year submarine building programme in which the country designs and manufactures submarines. The overall programme is many years behind schedule, and the situation is anticipated to worsen as the 75-I project is delayed.

In contrast, as a result of China and Pakistan’s military alliance, the latter is expected to get eight submarines from China, four of which will be built in Pakistan.

The process of induction has already begun. Pakistan will also have a distinct Navy with 3/4 Frigates/Destroyers, which may act as an extension of the Chinese PLAN in the Indian Ocean region.

As geopolitical faultlines become more visible and China’s footprint in the Indian Ocean Region grows, the Indian side would be wise to start the ball rolling and make the terms of its contract, as well as its technical needs, more accessible to foreign suppliers.

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