The head of India’s biggest warship builder, the State-run Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd, wants the government to take “some bold steps” on P-75I submarine manufacturing in the country.
The assertion by Vice Admiral Narayan Prasad (Indian Navy Retd), Chairman and Managing Director of Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of a deadlock over the Project-75 India or P-75 (I) submarine building project after at least three of the five foreign original equipment manufacturers shortlisted by India are said to have expressed their inability to participate in the bid citing some technical conditions.
The P-75 (I) submarines will be indigenously constructed through the strategic partnership model (SPM) under which selected Indian public and private companies would tie up with shortlisted global equipment manufacturers to build six submarines in India based on technology transfer. The government has shortlisted Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL) and Larsen & Toubro Ltd (L&T), for the construction of P-75 (I) submarines.
The government has also picked five foreign submarine makers – Naval Group (France), Rosoboronexport (Russia), Navantia (Spain), Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (Germany) and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Co Ltd (South Korea) for technology collaboration. The P-75 (I) is billed the largest single defence order yet awarded by the government, valued at some Rs 43,000 crore. But defence industry sources said that the deal size “has got a potential to spiral into higher values”.
In early May, the Naval Group said it was discontinuing its bid for the project citing its inability to meet conditions in the Request for Proposal (RFP). In a statement on 4 May, Laurent Videau, Country and Managing Director, Naval Group India, said, “Due to certain conditions in the RFP, the two strategic partners could not forward the request to us and few other FOEMs (foreign original equipment manufacturers) and thus we have not been able to place an official bid for the project.”
The French Group said that the Request for Proposal (RFP) “requires that the fuel cell air independent propulsion (AIP) be sea proven, which is not the case for us yet since the French Navy does not use such a propulsion system.” Two other OEMs are also understood to have cited the same reasons not to participate, leaving MDL and L&T with just two foreign strategic partners to choose from.
When asked about this, the CMD of MDL said: “You are talking about something which is the most controversial subject in defence manufacturing. I do not want to be seen talking about it. They are a highly volatile subject,I would rather avoid it now. The government is also finding it really difficult at this point in time, but certainly attempts are being made to make a headway”.
Yet, the CMD of MDL alluded to some concerns inherent in technology transfer. “I am just completing my last of the six (Scorpene class) submarines (for the Indian Navy) in collaboration with a French company, the Naval Group. They have a style of functioning that they would not share with you: the technology,” the CMD of MDL said.
Prasad said that submarine building has two components – “knowhow and know why”. “Knowhow means 100% absorption. In fact, after the second Scorpene class submarine, I did not need any assistance. The remaining four we made ourselves,” Prasad, a 36 plus years veteran of the Indian Navy told ET Infra on the sidelines of the trade exhibition INMEX SMM India organised by Informa Markets in Mumbai on Wednesday.
“But, if I have to build a submarine all by myself, designed by me, then there is a problem because certain components of empirical data, which they have evolved over a period of time, are not shared with us,” he pointed out. As a case in point, he referred to missile firing, which is a mandatory requirement before a submarine is delivered to the customer.
“One of my submarines is right now at sea for missile firing to demonstrate to our customer, during which the entire range is tracked for compliance purposes. When these things come, the reference is all given by them, something which they have not shared with us. They will come with their own laptops and do it very quickly, the moment you are close to them they will shut it (laptop) down, so that does not get shared with us,” Prasad explained.
The Indian Navy also depends on them and will not accept the submarine until and unless it is cleared by the technology partner. “So, we have been insisting on the Indian Navy, now that we have built four of them, let’s have the whole Indian Navy and the MDL component in the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) lab to decide the firing parameters and everything and dispose them (the technology partner) off.
Now, you can take some bold steps, but it is fraught with its own difficulties. Who will give guarantee and warranty, (besides concerns over) this is not there, that is not there? So, you can take a couple of bold steps, and this is what I offered to the government.
I said let’s forget about that because to hire them for a couple of sorties and all that (comes) at phenomenally exorbitant costs,” Prasad stated. Prasad also cited an incident during the pandemic when personnel from the technology partner left abruptly. “Now, to get them back once again, with complete airfare, the cost of deputation etc is exorbitant,” he added.