The alarm bells have gone off.
After nine long years of waiting, the Indian Navy couldn’t have expected a worse time for it to happen.
Suffering from two debilitating underwater losses within a year and tardy acquisition process, its only hope, Project 75 involving the construction of six Scorpene submarines based on transfer of technology from the French firm DCNS, is on the verge of taking a hit, resulting into the fourth straight extension of delivery deadline.
The Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), which is building the boats with DCNS’ assistance, has stated that critical spares which were to be supplied by DCNS are yet to materialise despite the deadlines expiring. What makes the crisis worse is the fact that these spares impact the first boat in all sections and thereby the lack of availability is expected to hit progress in construction. The present delivery schedule was worked out in November 2012 and orders were placed accordingly. This schedule stipulated that the first submarine would get commissioned into the navy by September 2016 and the remaining five at intervals of nine months after that. It is this schedule which now stands breached.
Meanwhile, the MDL has completed the construction of the six hulls for the six boats and has made headway into outfitting work on the first.
Rear Admiral (retd) Rahul Shrawat, Chairman and Managing Director, MDL said, “Earlier too this project was delayed on account of Mazagon Procurement Material (MPM) not being procured on time. Fresh MPM was ordered following a review. Of that, while some parts have come, some have not despite their delivery deadlines expiring. I am being forced to absorb delays and on many occasions I am undoing work I have done because parts come in later on”. He added that the Ministry of Defence had been briefed over this and the ‘pressure from all sides’ was being applied on DCNS to deliver. “Even if it comes through today, I can deliver the boat on time,” he mentioned. When asked if a revised timeline will have to worked out, following the delay, his response was, “I can’t comment till the material actually comes to me.
It was informed that the first of the Scorpene boats was ready to be ‘launched’ in September next year. A year of trials after that, involving all systems including weapon firing, she should be ready for commissioning into the navy i.e in September 2016. “Work is going on 24 by 7 at the yard and we are highly motivated. My fingers are crossed,” he added.
Defence Minister Arun Jaitley had visited the yard earlier this week and when asked did not comment on the development. However, top sources said they were aware of the matter and were ‘pushing it’.
Despite sending email to DCNS, Paris, seeking answers to this delay, there was no response. It was informed that senior officials were ‘travelling’.
BOX: NAVY’S RESPONSE
It may be recalled that Project 75 submarine construction project is a very important project for the country and Indian Navy. 06 state-of-the-art submarines fitted with latest equipment are being built at MDL, Mumbai under collaboration with M/s DCNS France, giving a massive boost to the indigenous submarine construction capability of the country. With all the impediments & material hurdles resolved, the construction of the submarines is progressing on schedule to meet the planned delivery schedule of Sep 2016.
BOX: Expert Opinion – R. Adm (Retd) Raja Menon
Iwould blame the MoD more than the yard, the yard has bore the brunt of MoD’s indecision
Poor decision-making has impacted the submarine project earlier too. Scorpene submarines are very eagerly awaited in the navy and they do represent the latest in technology that will take us ahead of Pakistan and give superiority in the Indian Ocean vis a vis the Chinese.
BOX: CONSTRUCTION OF SUBS NOT THE ONLY PROBLEM
While the submarine building is mired in delays, it does not represent the only problem facing the project.
The navy, which is favourably seeking the Black Shark torpedo, is yet to finalise contract for supplying of torpedoes. The cause behind was the shadow of the VVIP helicopter scam. The Black Shark is manufactured by WASS, a company of the Finmeccanica group, dealings with which were under an unofficial freeze. Only earlier this week the MoD has issued a notification in this regard and a final call is yet to be taken.
The navy is keen to also fit the fifth and sixth Scorpene with Air independent Propulsion (AIP) system, which helps the boat to remain underwater for longer periods. However with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) being tasked with the job, the navy remains unsure. Sources in the DRDO, when contacted, said, “It is extremely high end technology and challenging too. We are on the job and hope to meet the deadline set by the navy.”