Defence Ministry has once again extended the deadline to submit responses to the Request For Proposal (RFP) in the over ₹40,000 crore deal for six advanced submarines under Project-75(I) to December end. At the same time, the Navy has approached the Ministry for relaxation of certain specifications which has made most submarine manufacturers non-compliant. “The earlier RFP deadline of June 30, which was already an extension, has been extended by another six months,” two defence sources independently confirmed.
The deal which has been delayed is the first under the Strategic Partnership model of the procurement procedure to make progress. In January 2020, DAC had shortlisted Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) as the Indian partners for the P-75(I) deal. The five foreign OEMs include Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (South Korea), Naval Group (France), Navantia (Spain), Rosoboronexport (Russia) and TKMS (Germany).
The RFP was issued in July 2021 to MDL and L&T with 12 weeks to respond. The Indian companies are free to tie up with any of the five Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) that have been shortlisted earlier. However, the project ran into rough weather, among other things, over one of the specifications mentioned, that the submarine on offer should have an operational Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) module. Only Germany and South Korea technically meet this criterion, official sources said.
In addition, most of the OEMs have expressed concerns over the timelines, extent of technology transfer and third party guarantees. Both France and Russia have backed out, it has been learnt. “It is not possible for us to take part in the project in the present form,” representative of one of the OEMs told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. Project-75(I) envisages the indigenous construction of six modern conventional submarines with contemporary equipment, weapons and sensors including a Fuel-Cell based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system, advanced torpedoes, modern missiles and state-of-the-art countermeasure systems.
The Navy currently has 16 conventional and one nuclear submarine in service. It includes eight Russian Kilo-class submarines, four German HDW submarines, four French Scorpene submarines and the indigenous nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant. The last two of the Scorpene class submarines are in various stages of trials and outfitting.
Separately, the Navy has drawn up plans to install Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) modules on all Scorpene submarines as they go for their refit beginning with INS Kalvari in the next couple of years to enhance their endurance. The development of an indigenous AIP module developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is in advanced stages. With delays in submarine induction, the SSKs – 209s (German HDWs) and EKMs (Russian Kilos) submarines are being put through the Medium Refit Life Certification (MRLC) process which will give them an additional life of 10 to 15 years.