The stage is getting set for the Indian Navy to take the delivery of the third `Scorpene' submarine `Karanj' by the end of this year, and all the six will be delivered by 2022. According to Nicolas de La Villemarque, Vice President India, Asia and Pacific of Naval Group, "The Company is in discussions with all agencies involved in the project for fitting the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) modules on all Scorpenes beginning 2023."
The Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), the Indian Navy and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO are in the midst of discussions with the Naval Group. Since minor changes need to be carried out for the fitment of the AIP, a design agreement with the DRDO by the year-end is expected.
The Naval Group is ready to do design simulations which would help in working out the technicalities of the project which involves the process of cutting, joining and putting various blocks together. With technology assistance from the Naval Group (former DCNS) for a $3.75 bn deal signed in October 2005, the Mumbai based MDL shipyard is building these submarines.
The Financial Express Online had reported recently that the third `Scorpene' Karanj under construction at MDL, is undergoing the rigorous phase of sea trials. Karanj was launched in 2018.
The fourth submarine ` Vela', which was launched in May 2019 is getting ready for the sea trials and the balance two submarines — Vagir and Vagsheer are presently in various stages of outfitting.
The first Scorpene, Kulvari, is expected to come up for its refit after six years in 2023 and the Indian Navy is keen that the AIP be installed at that time. The INS Kulvari was commissioned in 2018. The Indian Navy has inducted the second `Scorpene' class submarine just last September.
The DRDO is already in the process of developing an indigenous fuel cell-based AIP module and has already touched a milestone last October with the successful operation of a land-based prototype engineered to the form-and-fit of a submarine. However, to get it operationally viable, naval officers feel it will take time to get fitted onboard the submarine in 2023.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior officer said that "It will take time for a Defence Quality Assurance (QA) approved 'productionised' version which could be ready for operational exploitation onboard Kalvari-class submarine. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Indian Navy has the options to buy either from the Naval Group or from any other vendors who have this technology on offer meeting all parameters."
What is AIP & why is it important for the submarines?
It is a module which gives stealth and extended endurance to diesel-electric submarines and allows them to stay in the water longer without access to the outside air.
With the Kalvari Class submarine is fitted with an AIP system onboard, it will have the potential to run its electric propulsion motor and electrical network and bypassing the traditional batteries.
The French Naval Group is also among the five Original Equipment Manufactures (OEM) who have been shortlisted for the Indian Navy's project for advanced submarines under Project-75I. This is being processed under the Strategic Partnership (SP) model of defence procurement. And MDL and Larsen & Toubro are the two Indian companies which have been shortlisted as the Indian partners and soon the Request For Proposal (RFP) is expected to be issued to them.
The Company has also responded to the Indian Navy's tender for heavyweight torpedoes, which will be used to equip the Scorpene submarines.