Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) cleared a 30-year-long procurement programme to acquire 24 attack submarines for the Indian Navy in 1999. The aim of the first two projects is to equip the Indian Navy’ submarine arm with modern attack submarines, as well as create an ecosystem in India to design, develop, and manufacture modern submarines.

A Brief History Of Submarines In India

Kalvari class submarine (Foxtrot-class) of the Indian Navy (Indian Navy photo)

The first submarine inducted by the Indian Navy was a soviet built foxtrot class submarine, christened ‘INS Kalvari’. Four Kalvari class submarines were procured initially in late 1960s with a follow-on order of four additional Foxtrots under ‘Vela class’ in the 70s. The Indian Navy signed an agreement with German firm HDW in 1981 to buy four Type-209 submarines with the latter two being built in India by the state-owned shipyard – Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL). Ten Kilo class submarines were purchased from USSR/Russia in the 80s with the last hull delivered in the year 2000.

Reaching 24 Attack Submarines

Project-75 (Kalvari class)

Vaghsheer Leaving For Sea Trials
INS Vaghsheer, the sixth P-75 submarine, leaving for sea trials (MDL & Indian Navy photo)

P-75, comprising six submarines, was the first project in the line to be executed. The project asked for a foreign submarine design to be built in India by the state-owned shipyard – Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL). In October 2005, MoD signed a deal worth 3.5-billion-euro for six Franco-Spanish Scorpène class submarines, to be built by MDL with the help of technology transfer. 

MDL was to deliver the first submarine by 2012 but it was delayed, as MDL and the French firm DCNS (now Naval Group) could not agree on the workshare regarding sensors and propulsion system components. This was a major problem as the first hull was laid and was awaiting delivery of subsystems. Technology transfer in project-75 was rather limited, several subsystems that were to be manufactured in India under license had to be directly imported from France. Furthermore, contractors from Naval Group have to be present on a submarine under sea trial to certify it, as Naval Group has not shared the required information with the manufacturer, MDL.

A plan to deliver the last two boats of the class with the DRDO AIP system was cancelled, as the development and certification of the AIP system was delayed. The indigenous content of the fourth boat was reported to be around 47%.

The submarines are currently operating with old German SUT torpedoes as the plan to get the Italian Black Shark torpedoes was shelved in a row of corruption allegations. The Indian Navy plans to integrate the indigenous heavyweight torpedo – Varunastra’s submarine-launched variant with the Kalvari class. The submarine is armed with Exocet SM39 anti-ship missile which is launched from the submarine’s standard 21-inch torpedo tube.  

The first submarine under P-75 – INS Kalvari, named after the first Indian submarine, was commissioned in December 2017, and the following four boats were delivered between FY20 and FY23. The last boat of the class – INS Vagsheer, is currently undergoing sea trials and scheduled for delivery by the end of the current financial year (FY24). 

Earlier this year, Naval Group signed an agreement with DRDO’s NMRL (Naval Materials Research Laboratory) to certify the AIP design for integration in the submarines. DRDO signed a contract with the Indian firm Larsen & Toubro (L&T) in June 2023 for realization of two AIP system modules for the Kalvari class submarines. Refit of the first submarine – INS Kalvari – is targeted around mid-2025. Scope of the refit and fitment of DRDO AIP system will depend on it being proven on an underwater platform. 

Project-75 India

P-75I is the second project under the 30-year plan, which was to help establish two shipyards in India that were capable of constructing attack submarines. P-75 and P-75I were, initially, supposed to be executed simultaneously with the first P-75I submarine being laid a year or two after P-75. This plan could not be pursued for various reasons, mainly financial and difficulties faced during P-75I.

The Indian Navy released a Request For Information (RFI) in 2008 to procure six conventional submarines. Of the six, two submarines were to be built at collaborators shipyard and four submarines at two Indian shipyards. Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted the in-principle approval to the project in 2010 which was revised in 2013 and 2014. Indian Navy re-issued the RFI in 2017 with the intent to build it under the strategic partnership model where a private partner will be able to partner up with a foreign vendor and place its bid. Two Indian shipyards – MDL and L&T – were shortlisted by the Ministry of Defence with five foreign design houses. 

MoD issued the RFP in July 2021 with the response date being extended three times. The Indian Navy has asked for a proven submarine design (or in sea trials) fitted with fuel cell-based AIP system and capable of firing SLCMs, using either torpedo tubes or VLS cells. The requirement of a proven fuel cell-based AIP system disqualified the French and the Russian design houses, leaving Germany’s TKMS, South Korea’s DSME (now Hanwha Ocean), and Spain’s Navantia in the race.

MDL was earlier going to tie up with South Korean firm DSME for the project, but the Korean interest in the project withered after acquisition by Hanhwa. MDL and TKMS entered a mutually exclusive agreement to move forward with each other and submit the bid for P-75I. L&T and Navantia signed a ‘Teaming Agreement’ in July 2023 for the purpose of submitting a bid for P-75I. Navantia will be offering a S80 class derivative, while it is not clear which submarine design will be offered by the MDL-TKMS partnership. 

The last date to submit the techno-financial bid was on the 1st of August 2023, which was met by both the parties. The project will now enter the evaluation phase, which could last 12-18 months, negotiations will start thereafter with the winner, and could last 10-12 months. MDL’s CMD in an earnings conference stated that the project is worth more than the sanctioned amount of 43,000 crore INR (5.18 Billion USD) and is closer to the ballpark of 60,000 crore INR (7.2 Billion USD).

P-75I is to include extensive technology transfer as well as high indigenous content. The submarines, when commissioned, will be the most potent conventional attack submarine in the Indian Navy, likely replacing the Kilo class submarines under the Eastern Naval Command. 

3 additional Scorpenes

The DAC granted the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for procurement of three additional Scorpene submarines under Buy (Indian) category which will be constructed by MDL. MDL expects the negotiations to take at least 4-6 months before things are in place, and has stated that it is “not clear at this point in time…whether this would be with AIP or without AIP, all the options are open”. Commenting on the cost would be premature given it will feature a lot of different subsystems, increased indigenous content, and the AIP system option has not been finalised. This will also help in maintaining the required force level as some of the Kilo and Type-209 class submarines will be retiring this decade.

Indigenous Submarine Efforts

MISSION ATMANIRBHAR SUBMARINE: As a proof of concept for Indigenous Submarine, MDL successfully pressure tested its Midget Submarine Prototype Hull at unique land based Submarine testing facility developed by MDL. (MDL photo)

The Indian Navy has given a commitment to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) that the next line of submarines would be designed in India. MDL & DND-SDG signed an MoU for Collaboration in R&D of Technology & Equipment for Submarine Applications. MDL is undertaking a very ambitious programme to indigenize almost 8,000 components of what goes into the submarine, WDB is also working on the indigenisation of the submarine under the project P-76, both will be working on these aspects jointly. It is possible that the indigenous submarine may take inspiration from the P-75 and P-75I class of submarines and either of the firms could be contracted to provide consultancy for the ‘P-76’. MDL is constructing a midget submarine to test the equipment developed in-house by MDL as well as DRDO labs. It will help in cutting down the testing period as the developers won’t need an active IN submarine to carry out trials.

The Indian Navy will be phasing out the remaining Kilo and Type-209 submarines in the 2030s, replacing them with additional Scorpenes, P-75I and Indigenous submarines. The Indian Navy’s submarine arm will feature around 6 nuclear powered attack submarines and 18 conventional submarines in the coming decades.