French DCNS is likely to lose an order to build three additional submarines apart from the existing order of six already being built at Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) as part of the P-75 project due to last month’s Scorpene document leak.
Thus, the Scorpene strength with the Indian Navy — as per the original Project-75 programme — might remain only at six. The Mumbai-based MDL, which is constructing the boats under a Transfer of Technology (ToT) from France, is expected to release all the boats to the Indian Navy by 2020, Asian Age reported Monday.
The first Scorpene, the INS Kalvari, began ‘sea trials’ in May this year while the second, INS Khanderi, is being prepared to be launched by the MDL later this year. However, the leak will not affect DCNS’s prospects for the recent Rs 60,000 crore (US $9 billion) plus Project-75 India programme (P-75I), where foreign shipbuilders will build six more conventional submarines in India itself in partnership with an Indian shipyard.
France is again offering the Scorpene, along with several other contenders that include Russia (Amur submarines), Sweden (Gotland), Japan (Soryu), Germany (HDW Type 214) and Spain (Navantia S-80). “The number of Scorpene boats under the P-75 will remain only six now owing to the scare generated by the leak,” said a senior defence official, privy to the developments.
As regards the seriousness of the leak itself, Navy officers are not worried after many serving and retired submariners who reviewed the leaked documents for The Asian Age, characterised the performance characteristics published in The Australian as “generic”, which are already available on the internet. The papers carried information on the submarines’ intelligence gathering frequencies, Sonar, sound and acoustic characteristics, magnetic/electromagnetic behaviour and weapons data etc. Officers explained that the physical traits undergo changes over time and are subject to upgradation during ‘refits’ and ‘Mid-Life Upgrades’ (MLUG).
“We are constructing the boats in India itself, unlike Chile or Australia, which are buying them off the shelf from the French. This offers us scope to tweak those systems. The first submarine, Kalvari, hasn’t even been inducted yet while the rest will be released to the Indian Navy at the rate of one per year by 2020. So each of them is a full decade and a half away from reaching the MLUG and refit stage,” the news daily quoted a Captain-rank officer from the submarine arm.
Another officer pointed out that the documents published in The Australian date back to even before the contract between India and France was signed in 2005.
Submariners also explained that technical aspects such as stealth features, noise levels, magnetic/electromagnetic data are something that undergo change over time. “A submarine’s noise is a result of its on-board machinery and propeller configurations. They are different at different speeds, depths, seawater and saline conditions. They are so distinct that even the acoustic signatures for two vessels of the same class are not the same,” said another submarine officer.
Commodore PR Franklin (retd), a former submariner, who has authored a book chronicling the history of the Soviet-origin ‘Foxtrot’ class submarines, titled ‘Foxtrots of the Indian Navy’, concurs with these views. “We have tropical waters unlike the waters in the temperate and higher latitudes for which, the French, German, US and British submarines are built. The performance deteriorates drastically when they operate in warmer and more saline waters. Published figures and actual performance figures therefore vary seasonally too. Hence even classified and actual figures of performance would be vastly different,” Franklin said.