India's ambitious submarine manufacturing plans remain stuck in a policy paralysis despite China and Pakistan systematically adding teeth to their underwater combat capabilities. It is the decision makers in New Delhi who need to wake up to the growing asymmetry between the armed forces of India and it's neighbours.
After going around in circles for two years, the project is back to square one as far as the proposal of Rs 50,000 crore 'Project-75 India' to construct six new-generation conventional submarines, armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion (AIP) for greater underwater endurance, is concerned.
Defence acquisitions council headed by A. K. Antony, on it's part, has now given a fresh go-ahead to the naval proposal to directly import two of the six diesel-electric stealth submarines from the foreign collaborator who will eventually be selected for 'P-75 India'. The remaining four boats will be built at Mazagon Docks (MDL) at Mumbai and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) at Visakhapatnam after full transfer of technology.
The 'P-75 India' project should have started several years ago. With so much delay in even finalizing it's contours, India cannot hope to induct these submarines anytime before 2022.
With the private sector out of the immediate submarine production plans, a scramble is in progress to ready the case for fresh approval by CCS. The global tender (Request For Proposal) can only be floated after the CCS gives the nod since two submarines have to be imported.
The Indian Navy, has been pushing desperately for importing the first two submarines to make up for lost time. But policy makers in New Delhi argued the 30-year submarine building plan. According to the national Submarine building plan, a total of 24 vessels would be manufactured in India, the first 12 with transfer of technology from foreign collaborators and the next 12 indigenously.
But 13 years later, not even one new submarine is anywhere close to induction. Even Project-75, under which six French Scorpene submarines are being constructed at MDL for Rs 23,562 crore, is running three years behind the original 2012-2017 induction schedule.
Currently India is left with just 10 ageing Russian Kilo-class and four German HDW submarines. Out of these 10 submarines, only half of them are fully operational at any given time. Projections show only five of the existing 14 submarines will be operational by 2020. India, even after inducting all the six new Scorpenes by 2020, will remain far short of the minimum of 18 conventional submarines required to deter arch rival Pakistan and China.