In 1999, the year when the Kargil War was fought, the then BJP-led NDA government cleared a 30-year plan to ensure by 2030 a fleet of 24 conventional diesel-electric submarines for the Indian Navy. The ambitious plan involved creating two separate assembly lines to build a set of six submarines each, under Projects 75 and 75(I), which were to be sourced from two different countries. This project of building 12 submarines with foreign collaborators was to be followed by India building 12 indigenously designed submarines, thus taking the total to 24. It is expected that by 2030 the then (as of 1999) fleet of submarines would have been decommissioned.
Earlier this month, India inducted its first conventional submarine in 17 years, thus taking the present strength of the Navy’s conventional submarine fleet to barely 14, which are 10 short of the planned strength of 24 supposed to be inducted over the next 13 years, going by the original plan. But that remains a far cry, simply because India has neither contracted purchase of six more submarines from a second foreign source, nor finalised a design to indigenously build 12 conventional submarines. All that India has done until now is to contract building six French-origin Scorpene submarines, the first of which (INS Kalvari) was inducted on 14 December, after being built at the Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai, in collaboration with France’s M/s Naval Group.
Interestingly, INS Kalvari took eight years to build and has been inducted five years behind schedule. This is indeed a repeat of history. Slightly over a quarter of a century ago, India in February 1992 inducted INS Shalki, a German-origin submarine that similarly took eight years and four months (100 months) to license, build and assemble at the MDL, instead of the originally scheduled 42 months (three-and-a-half years). The second German-origin submarine, INS Shankul, commissioned in May 1994, had taken even longer to build—10 years (120 months).
All six Scorpene submarines, which were originally scheduled to be inducted between 2012 and 2017, are now slated for induction only by 2021, i.e. four years behind schedule. Although in 2013 the government cleared procurement of another six advanced conventional submarines, until December 2017 no such submarine had been shortlisted, let alone a purchase contract signed.
India’s current conventional submarine fleet of 14 is severely aged. After INS Kalvari, inducted only a fortnight ago, the next youngest conventional submarine with the Navy is 17 years old. INS Sindhushastra, a Russian Kilo Class submarine, inducted in 2000, was the last of the Russian-origin Kilo Class submarine to be commissioned by the Navy. The remaining 12 conventional submarines are an average quarter century old—between 23 to as much as 31 years to be exact. At any point of time, some of these 12 submarines are usually undergoing refit, overhaul or maintenance, thus resulting in fewer submarines actually available for operational deployment. In any case, by 2030 or before, all these 12 submarines would have been decommissioned, leaving the Indian Navy with a severely depleted submarine fleet as it stands at the start of 2018.
In February 2015, the government sanctioned construction of six nuclear powered attack submarines or SSNs, the first of which is easily a decade away from induction, considering that no deadline has been accorded. These six SSNs are in addition to four INS Arihant class nuclear-powered submarines, with ballistic missile
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