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France offers India world's top torpedoes

By Ajai Shukla
June 05, 2021 12:08 IST
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'The F-21's capabilities far exceed all other torpedoes currently in service.'

IMAGE: The Scorpene-class submarine INS Karanj being commissioned into the Indian Navy in Mumbai, March 10, 2021. Photograph: Deepak Salvi/ANI Photo

The construction of six Scorpene conventional submarines by Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), Mumbai, under Project 75, is just 18-24 months from completion.

French shipbuilder Naval Group (formerly DCNS), which has supplied the technology under a $3.25 billion order, is seeking a bigger role in India. This includes upgrading the six Scorpenes with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and competing in the $5.5 billion global tender for building six more AIP submarines under Project 75-I.

Rear Admiral Rahul Shrawat (retd), who heads Naval Group India, talks to Ajai Shukla about Naval Group's ambitions.

What is the future of the Project 75 submarine line in Mumbai?
Should it build more Scorpenes or switch to overhauling and upgrading the existing six submarines?

Through extensive transfer of technologies during the construction of six Scorpene submarines, MDL has mastered the building of conventional submarines. This is of great satisfaction for Naval Group.

MDL's expertise should not be allowed to fade away, as has happened in the past. These skills must be preserved by building additional submarines in MDL.

If the ministry of defence orders more Scorpenes, they can have AIP, which the navy wants. They could also have major capability improvements over the present Scorpenes, such as advanced weapons and sensors. The final call has to be made by the customer -- the Indian Navy.

Meanwhile, Naval Group is proposing to expand in-service support to the six Scorpenes through the supply of spare parts and the latest simulators and tools for training and maintenance.

For this, we are engaging with private and public Indian companies, as well as the naval dockyards. Such service support would also be offered for the six Project75-I submarines, if that order materialises.

Does Naval Group support the proposal to retrofit AIP into the existing Scorpenes? Has it made any offer towards this end?

Naval Group fully supports the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiative on AIP. I understand that the Defence Research and Development Organisation's indigenously developed, fuel cell-based AIP has successfully demonstrated its performance on a 'land-based prototype'.

We are working closely with DRDO to safely integrate the indigenous AIP into each of the six Scorpenes, as they come up for long refits.

Would Naval Group suggest ordering additional Scorpenes, effectively expanding Project 75? Or is it preferable for MDL to move straight into building a next-generation submarine under project 75-I?

Building a submarine is much more complex than most other defence platforms.

To preserve MDL's building expertise and qualified staff, more submarines need to be ordered quickly. However, the tendering, selection and contracting for Project 75-I is a huge task and requires lead time.

Meanwhile, MDL could build more Scorpenes, incorporating DRDO's AIP and other advanced features. This would preserve the expertise created at MDL, while also bringing orders to Indian firms such as Bharat Electronics and Larsen & Toubro.

However, it is the Indian Navy's prerogative to decide how best to manage this complex issue.

With Project 75 nearing completion, is Naval Group well poised in the tendering for Project 75-I?

Naval Group is honoured to have been shortlisted as one of the four global manufacturers in Project 75-I, in the Expression of Interest (EOI) that the Indian Navy floated in 2019.

Naval Group has already, in Project 75, achieved a high level of indigenisation through transfer of technology and created a strong industrial ecosystem of MSMEs as suppliers.

We also have rich global expertise in constructing the latest conventional and nuclear submarines. Naval Group stands ready to propose a solution for Project 75-I that will be fully compliant with the Indian Navy's requirements.

What other products and services is Naval Group looking at in the Indian market?

Taking into account the Indian Navy's experience and infrastructure at its naval bases, Naval Group is ready to provide services to optimise the availability of Project 75 submarines at sea.

For this, we are training Indian maintenance teams, supervised by our domain experts, to perform critical tasks on-board these vessels.

Next, given that torpedoes are the Scorpene's primary underwater armament, we have offered the Indian Navy our latest-generation F-21 heavyweight torpedoes, which we developed for the French navy's nuclear attack submarines.

The F-21's capabilities far exceed all other torpedoes currently in service. It has recently demonstrated exceptional performance levels in operational trials and has been recently inducted into the French navy. The Indian Navy has, therefore, been offered the French navy's latest torpedoes.

Third, the Indian Navy has an ambitious carrier air programme. Naval Group would like to provide support in building India's second indigenous aircraft carrier , which is currently being designed. We are also in discussion with Indian shipyards for future surface ship programmes.

Naval Group would also support other future naval platforms with high-end military systems. Should Indian shipyards need this, we can propose full design or technology bricks (for propulsion, combat management systems, etc) for future complex surface ship projects.

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Ajai Shukla in New Delhi
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