India Launches Second Scorpene Submarine, but Capacity Pressures Still Haunt Navy

by Dan Darling, International Military Markets Analyst, Forecast International.

With India’s submarine capacity dwindling, small rays of sunshine are beginning to appear in the distance. The launching on January 12 of the second in a six-boat class of French-designed Project 75 Scorpene attack submarines (SSKs) marks another small, slow step in building up a capable submarine arm that has dangerously atrophied over the years. During the 1980s, the Indian Navy submarine inventory numbered 21 vessels, while today it features just 13 conventional submarines, plus one indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile (SSBN) submarine, the Arihant. Another boat, the Russian Akula-class Chakra, is leased and used only for training purposes.

This limited inventory is pitted against a growing Chinese submarine capacity already numbering 65 vessels. Furthermore, China’s Navy is now moving more and more into the domain seen by the Indian Navy as its remit – the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). An ever-increasing Chinese presence in the IOR may be considered a natural byproduct of extended Chinese maritime commercial and supply links and its growing naval arm, but it nonetheless requires greater surveillance and elicits concern in Indian naval circles.

The six-submarine Project 75 Scorpene is seen as but one of several submarine capacity correctives on the horizon for the Indian Navy. The first-in-class Kalvari is currently undergoing sea trials and is expected to be commissioned no later than 2018. This would be followed by the aforementioned second-in-class, the Khanderi, with the remainder coming online through 2023.

In addition, the Arihant-class SSBNs, part of India’s strategic forces and emerging nuclear triad, are currently expected to total five submarines, all coming into service by 2027.

Then there is the still-evolving Project 75I, which involves a six-submarine class of nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) being pursued by the NDA government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi under the “Buy and Make (India)” procurement category.  “Buy and Make (India)” requires any foreign vendor involved in the deal to provide technology transfer to a domestic Indian shipyard. The Modi government is requiring the use of private shipyards, a step in the opposite direction of the previous UPA government, which favored a strictly state-owned approach.

Wherever and however construction may occur, the limitations placed by the two governments on domestic contenders, combined with the insistence on indigenous control over the program, means the entire project continues to flounder ten years after first being cleared by the Ministry of Defense in 2007. Unfortunately for the Indian Navy and the other military service branches, such delays are the norm in India’s meandering, labyrinthine defense procurement process. With the Indian MoD still in the process of finalizing a “strategic partnership” (SP) model to choose private domestic firms to undertake defense projects, the Project 75I submarine program continues to languish.

Perhaps most glaringly in all the giddy reports emanating from India regarding the launch of the Khanderi is the fact that the submarine – now three years behind schedule – is slated to come online without torpedoes. This is because an Indian Navy plan to procure Black Shark torpedoes from Italy’s Leonardo subsidiary, WASS, was canceled last May in the wake of corruption charges against another Leonardo subsidiary, AgustaWestland.

So, while there is some good news starting to trickle in regarding the Indian Navy’s sub program, there is also a lot to remain distressed about.

Please feel free to use this content with Forecast International and analyst attributions, along with a link to the article. Contact Ray Peterson at +1 (203) 426-0800 or via email at ray.peterson@forecast1.com for additional analysis.


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