By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Dec 17
After 11 years in construction at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), the first Scorpene (French for scorpion) submarine, INS Kalvari, was commissioned into the Indian navy by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi in Mumbai on Thursday.
The Kalvari is the first of six conventional submarines for which the navy signed a Rs 18,798 crore contract in 2005 with French-Spanish submarine consortium, Armaris. That company was taken over by France’s Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS), and its cost went up to Rs 23,562 crore. In June, DCNS changed its name to Naval Group.
All six Scorpenes were to be delivered between 2012 and 2015, but that schedule has slipped to 2017-2020. The second vessel, INS Khanderi, is currently undergoing sea trials and is on track for delivery in March. The other four are scheduled for delivery, according to the defence ministry, at nine-month intervals till mid-2021. Naval Group however said in a statement on Thursday that the Scorpenes “will be delivered at a rate of one every 12 months. By that estimation, the last Scorpene would be delivered in early 2022.
Compounding the five year delay in building the Kalvari, the submarine has been languishing for almost three months after it was handed over to the navy, fully built and tested, in September. Since then, it has awaited the PM’s availability for half a day for the commissioning ceremony.
In the event, a galaxy of VIPs attended the ceremony, included Maharashtra governor, Vidyasagar Rao, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of State for Defence, Subhash Bhamre and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
According to the “commissioning warrant”, read out by Kalvari’s first commanding officer, Captain SD Mehendale, the vessel has been placed under the navy’s Western Command. This means it will primarily operate in the shallow waters of the Arabian Sea, blockading Pakistani ports and naval bases in wartime and sneaking up on enemy warships to destroy them with torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. It could also be used to blockade shipping from West Asia, entering the Arabian Sea through the Strait of Hormuz.
In a war with China, Indian submarines would guard four major south east Asian straits – Malacca, Lombok, Sunda and Ombai Wettar – preventing Chinese warships based in the South China Sea from crossing into the Indian Ocean.
Even in peacetime the Indian Navy has, since June, continuously maintained a submarine and a surface warship off the Andaman Islands on “Malacca Domain Awareness” patrols, as part of a new posture of “mission based deployment”.
In fulfilling multiple operational tasks, the six Scorpene boats (as navies refer to submarines) will be a welcome addition to the navy’s aging fleet of 13 conventional submarines. These include four 20-30 year-old, German-origin HDW Type 209 boats (called the Shishumar-class); and nine 10-20 year-old, Russian-origin Kilo class 877 EKM vessels (called the Sindhughosh-class).
The Kalvari is being commissioned almost exactly on the Golden Jubilee of the navy’s submarine arm. On December 8, 1967 the navy commissioned its first submarine, a Soviet Foxtrot-class boat that was the original INS Kalvari. That boat’s captain, Commodore (Retired) Subramanian attended the commissioning in Mumbai today.
The new Kalvari is a technological marvel compared to its forebear. Displacing 1,565 tonnes, it is 67.5 metres long and 12.3 metres high and is powered by a quiet “Permanently Magnetised Propulsion Motor” that drives it underwater at 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour, or kmph) and, while surfaced, at 12 knots (22 kmph). There are plans to equip the last two Scorpenes with advanced “air independent propulsion”.
A submarine’s key attribute is stealth, since it is extremely vulnerable once an enemy detects it. Stealth comes from reducing engine noise and from silencing the boat’s internal systems. In the Kalvari, systems are mounted on shock absorbing cradles to dampen vibrations and reduce its noise signature.
The defence ministry says the Kalvari is armed with the heavyweight, 533-millimetre, wire-guided Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) torpedo, an old German armament acquired in the 1980s for the navy’s four 877 EKM (Sindhughosh class) submarines. The navy had initially chosen the modern Black Shark torpedo, built by WASS. That option fell through when the defence ministry banned all buys from Finmeccanica group companies (including WASS) after Italy began investigating corruption by Agusta Westland (a Finmeccanica company) in selling VVIP helicopters to India.
Besides the outdated SUT torpedo, the Kalvari packs the Exocet SM39 anti-ship missile, built by the Franco-British-Italian conglomerate, MBDA. The defence ministry says the Kalvari has already “undertaken successful torpedo launch as well as the navy’s maiden SM 39 Exocet combat missile firing on 02 Mar 2017.”
Like all underwater predators the Kalvari is superbly equipped to detect targets. It uses sonar and ranging equipment that is integrated into a digital Submarine Tactical Integrated Combat System (SUBTICS). This includes a Low Frequency Analysis and Ranging (LOFAR) sonar, which detects and classifies targets at long ranges (exact ranges are a closely guarded secret). Its periscopes are equipped with infrared and low light cameras and laser range finders.
Naval Group says the Kalvari is the fifth Scorpene submarine in the world. It has already delivered two each to Chile and Malaysia. In addition, four are under construction in Brazil.
While commissioning the Kalvari, the PM described INS Kalvari as a prime example of “Make in India.” In fact, Project 75, as the Scorpene procurement is named, pre-dates “Make in India” by 18 years. In 1999, the cabinet approved the navy’s 30-year submarine building programme, which involves the indigenous construction of 24 submarines by 2029. Project 75, to build six submarines, is the first part of that.
Alongside Project 75, six more submarines with “air independent propulsion” are to be indigenously built under Project 75-I. The defence ministry has allocated this to the private sector under the “Strategic Partner” policy, and a Request for Information has gone out to global vendors. Subsequently, Project 76 would kick off, which envisages the indigenous design and construction of 12 more submarines.