India's Navy Just Inducted Its First Conventional Submarine (In 17 Years)

September 23, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: IndiaSubmarineWarMilitaryTechnology

India's Navy Just Inducted Its First Conventional Submarine (In 17 Years)

Why such a long wait?

On Thursday, the Times of India reported that the INS Kalvari had been delivered to India’s Navy. The boat is the first of six in a variant on the Scorpène class of submarines that India is buying from France under an agreement reached back in 2005. That deal was reportedly for $3.75 billion and included technology transfer, with the submarines being built in Mumbai by Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL). Following the delivery of the submarine, MDL released a statement saying, “History was written at MDL on September 21, 2017 with the delivery of the first Scorpene submarine, Kalvari, to the Indian Navy. Post delivery, the submarine would soon be commissioned into the navy.”

This history was a long time in the making. As is often the case for India’s defense bureaucracy, the delivery of the submarines has been severely delayed. The deal initially anticipated the first submarine being ready by 2012, with the last one being delivered this year. Instead, the first one was delivered in 2015 and the second submarine was launched early this year. The third boat is expected to be launched sometime later this year, with the other three being completed around 2020.

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The six undersea vessels are a badly needed infusion for the Indian Navy. The navy has an operational requirement for eighteen conventional attack submarines, but before this week’s delivery had only thirteen aging boats, down from twenty-one during the 1980s. Only half of these thirteen subs are operational at any one time.

The Scorpène submarine was jointly developed by the French company Naval Group (formerly DCNS), and the Spanish company Navantia. Other countries that have purchased Scorpène submarines include Chile, Brazil and Malaysia. India’s version reportedly stretches 61.7 meters and displaces over 1,500 tons while submerged. It was initially supposed to be equipped with air-independent propulsion systems built in India, but this does not appear to have come to fruition. It does have six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes that can be armed with antiship torpedoes, antiship missiles, or sea mines.

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Among the armaments India’s subs will be equipped with is the SM.39 Exocet underwater-launched antiship missile, which the INS Kalvari flight tested earlier this year. The Exocet has a range of fifty kilometers and can also be fired at lower-than-periscope depths. According to the website Navy Recognition, the Exocet “features all weather capability, sea skimming flight, solid propellant and a high kill warhead.”

Regarding the Scorpène submarine in general, the Indian Navy has said: “The state-of-art features of the Scorpene include superior stealth and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons. The attack can be launched with torpedoes, as well as tube launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on surface. The stealth features give it invulnerability, unmatched by many submarines.” India’s navy has also stated that the submarines will have a number of different missions, including antisubmarine warfare, antisurface warfare, intelligence gathering and mine laying, among others.

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The six Scorpène submarines, which Delhi calls the Kalvari class, are only the opening salvo in India’s ambitious plans to upgrade its undersea forces. Back in July, India’s Navy officially opened up bidding for six air-independent propulsion-powered submarines. Six foreign companies received a request for information, including Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, France’s Naval Group, Spain’s Navantia, Sweden’s Saab, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp. The program, called Project 75 I, is expected to be worth $12 billion. Local media outlets have taken to referring to contract as the “mother of all underwater defense deals.”

One Indian defense industry official told Defense News back in July, “As per the policy document, the overseas shipyards would be shortlisted based on range, depth and scope of technology transfer offered in identified areas, extent of indigenous content proposed [and] extent of ecosystem of Indian vendors/manufacturers.” Their willingness to transfer technology to India is likely to be an especially important factor in Delhi’s decision.

A former Indian Navy official told the same outlet that his former service wants a “proven, effective, state-of-the-art, electric heavyweight torpedo; a land attack missile; and perhaps even an underwater-to-air missile against enemy helicopters and mines.”

Ultimately, the Indian Navy plans to have at least eighteen conventionally powered submarines in the Indian Ocean, along with six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). As I noted last week, Delhi plans to launch its second homegrown SSBN, the INS Aridhaman, in the coming weeks. After it is launched, the boat will undergo extensive sea tests over the next two years before being inducted into the Indian Navy at some point in 2019.

India has a history of leasing SSNs from Russia, and in 2015 announced its plans to build six vessels indigenously. Delhi’s almost certain to use technological information it has gained from the Russian boats when designing its own SSNs. It will also draw on the knowledge it has gained from building the new SSBNs.

Zachary Keck (@ZacharyKeck) is a former managing editor of the National Interest.

Image: Employees stand around the Indian Navy's first Scorpene submarine before being undocked from Mazagon Docks Ltd, a naval vessel ship building yard, in Mumbai April 6, 2015. Irked by India's status as the world's biggest arms importer, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to build an advanced defence industry but almost a year into his "Make in India" campaign, which aims to turn the country into a manufacturing powerhouse, not one large domestic weapons project has been awarded. Picture taken April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade