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AIP: The Naval Technology that India craves for

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    11th May, 2022

Context

One of five shortlisted Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) called Naval Group, earlier known as DCNS, for the Navy’s P-75 India (P-75I) project to build six conventional submarines within the country, announced it would not bid for the project. 

Background

What is the P-75I project?

  • In June 1999, the Cabinet Committee on Security approved a 30-year plan for the Navy to indigenously build and induct 24 submarines by 2030. 
  • In the first phase, two lines of production were to be established — the first, P-75; the second, P-75I. Both lines producing six submarines each.
  • The contract for P-75 was signed in 2005 with the Naval Group, then known as DCNS, in partnership with Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL).
  • The first Kalvari Class (Scorpene Class) submarine under the project was commissioned in December 2017.
  • Another five submarines have been built since; the final one, Vagsheer, was launched last month, and will be commissioned by late 2023.
  • While P-75 deliveries were delayed, P-75I has seen long delays even before it has kicked off.
  • The first Request for Information was issued in 2008, then again in 2010, but the RFP was issued only in July 2021.
  • This will be India’s first project under the Strategic Partnership Model — the government will give the contract to an Indian Strategic Partner (SP), which will partner with a foreign OEM to build AIP-powered submarines in the country.
  • MDL and Larsen and Toubro are the two selected SP; the five selected OEMs are:
  • Naval Group (France),
  • ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (Germany),
  • ROE (Russia),
  • Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (South Korea), and
  • Navantia (Spain).

What is the status of the project?

  • The final bids — one each by the SP in partnership with an OEM — are yet to take place.
  • The project faces hurdles as the Naval Group has already announced it is pulling out, and sources said the Russian and Spanish companies might also not proceed with their bids.
  • Among the concerns, as Naval Group said, is the requirement to demonstrate a sea-proven fuel cell AIP.
  • While some manufacturers may have the technology, it may not have been proven at sea yet.
  • Some analysts believe that while the RFP was clear about these conditions, it is possible that the OEMs were expecting certain concessions in the requirements eventually.
  • Another problem for the OEMs is with respect to the transfer of technology, which is built into the process under the SP model.
  • It is believed that the OEMs are unwilling to share all their expertise, especially the niche technologies that they have built.

Why does the Navy want AIP subs?

  • Issuing the RFP last year, the government said it envisages indigenous construction of six modern conventional submarines with contemporary equipment, weapons & sensors including Fuel-Cell based AIP (Air Independent Propulsion Plant), advanced torpedoes, modern missiles and state of the art countermeasure systems.
  • AIP is important for Indian Navy it has a force multiplier effect on lethality of a diesel electric submarine as it enhances the submerged endurance of the boat several folds.
  • Fuel cell-based AIP has merits in performance compared to other technologies.
  • AIP technology therefore allows a conventional submarine to remain submerged for much longer than ordinary diesel-electric submarines.
  • All conventional submarines have to surface to run their generators that recharge the batteries that allow the boat to function under water.
  • However, the more frequently a submarine surfaces, the higher the chances of it being detected. AIP allows a submarine to remain submerged for more than a fortnight, compared to two to three days for diesel-electric boats.
  • While the six P-75 submarines are diesel-electric, they can be fitted with AIP technology later in their lives.
  • India has been working to develop AIP technology indigenously as well.

What submarines does India have now?

  • India has 16 conventional diesel-electric submarines, which are classified as SSKs.
  • After the last two Kalvari Class subs are commissioned under P-75, this number will go up to 18.
  • India also has two nuclear ballistic submarines, classified SSBN.
  • Of the 16 SSKs, four are of Shishumar Class, which were bought and then built in India in collaboration with the Germans starting 1980s:
  • 8 are Kilo Class or Sindhughosh Class submarines bought from Russia and
  • 4 are Kalvari Class built in India at MDL.

What type of AIP mechanism is India wanting to have in its submarine?

  • There are different types of AIP mechanisms available.
  • India is looking for under the P-75I project is AIP based on fuel cells.
  • These cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy, recharging the batteries of the submarine

Practice Question

Q1. Explain how Air Independent Propulsion works? Discuss the significance of the technology for Indian Naval power?

Q2. India with a coastline of almost 7500 km is vulnerable to various threats. Analyse the issues of maritime security and measure needed to address them.

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