Going All French

With three additional Scorpenes, Indian Navy has unveiled its future roadmap

Atul Chandra

The Indian Navy (IN) which presently operates three different classes of submarines of French, Russian and German origin, is likely to consolidate this into two separate types, post 2030. The Navy’s undersea arm was heavily orientated towards Russian submarines from the 1970s till about five years ago, when the first of its new Scorpene submarines was inducted in 2017. Its existing fleet of seven Russian-built Kilo Class submarines are likely to remain in service till the early 2030s. The navy also has a fleet of five Scorpene submarines with a sixth due for delivery, along with four Type 1500 diesel-electric submarines of German origin.


In July, the defence acquisition council (DAC) which is headed by defence minister Rajnath Singh, granted its acceptance of necessity (AoN) for the procurement of three additional Scorpene submarines under the Buy (Indian) category. This will increase the Navy’s Scorpene fleet to nine submarines. The ministry of defence (MoD) has stated that the additional submarines would not only help in maintaining the required force level and operational readiness of the IN, but also create significant employment opportunities in the domestic sector. These submarines will also feature higher levels of indigenous content and all three will be built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) under license from French shipbuilder Naval Group.

The MoD had issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the acquisition of six conventional submarines under Project P75 (I) in July 2021. The acquisition cost of these submarines is estimated to be over Rs 43,000 crore and all six are to be equipped with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems. At the present time, it is unclear if Project P75 (I) will be scrapped following the MoD’s decision in July to build three more Scorpene submarines at MDL. Inducting and operating a new submarine type to replace the navy’s ageing Kilo Class and Type 1500 diesel-electric submarines, will be an expensive endeavour and at the present rate of progress will take a decade to fructify.

The selection of another submarine type to operate alongside the Scorpene will also have the much-needed benefit of ensuring that the navy’s entire undersea fleet is not at the mercy of a single supplier. Competing shipbuilders for the Project P75 (I) contract are also continuing to improve their submarine offerings and India could benefit from inducting these newer boats, which are even more advanced than its existing Scorpenes.

Naval Group, however, remains a formidable competitor due to its experience of operating in India and the sales success of its Scorpene SSKs, with 14 submarines built worldwide. Naval Group has also been contracted by Brazil for Scorpene submarines, in addition to supporting the Brazilian Navy in the design and construction of the country’s first nuclear-powered submarine. Brazil will build and operate four Scorpene submarines, known locally as the Riachuelo Class. The first of the four submarines, Riachuelo, was commissioned by the Brazilian Navy in September 2022 and Humaitá, which was launched in December 2020, is the second of the series and will be delivered by the end of this year.


Depth Perception

Spanish shipbuilder Navantia announced in October that its S-81 submarine Isaac Peral had dived down to its maximum operational depth before being commissioned into the Spanish Navy. Navantia is building four S-80 submarines for the Spanish Navy. Navantia’s president, Ricardo Domínguez, said that Navantia had made a qualitative leap forward with S-81 and it was also a qualitative leap forward in Spain’s defence capabilities and in its industrial and technological base.

Navantia also announced in September that it had successfully performed Factory Acceptance Tests (FAT) of its third-generation AIP BEST (Bio-Ethanol Stealth Technology) system developed for S-80 Class submarines. Navantia’s AIP BEST system is based on fuel cells that use hydrogen produced onboard from bioethanol, instead of pure stored hydrogen, for their operation.

Navantia was able to verify the performance and operational capabilities of the AIP in a simulated operating environment that replicated the demanding conditions that the system would have to withstand during a real mission. With the successful conclusion of the FAT, Navantia’s S-83 submarine being built for the Spanish Navy will be the first to feature this new AIP capability. The first two submarines to be delivered to the Spanish Navy, the Isaac Peral (S-81) and the Narciso Monturiol (S-82), will be retrofitted with Navantia’s AIP BEST at a later date.

Navantia’s AIP BEST system will provide conventional diesel-electric submarines such as the S-80 Class with unprecedented tactical capabilities. These submarines will be able to sail for up to three weeks while submerged. In comparison, conventional diesel-electric submarines are forced to sail close to the surface after a certain number of hours to recharge their batteries using their diesel engines, in an operation known as snorkelling. AIP-equipped submarines can avoid this risk by being able to recharge their batteries while submerged at deep depths when sailing in AIP mode, significantly extending their underwater range.


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