Military & Aerospace

India’s Indigenous Submarine Design Dilemma
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Issue Vol 27.3 Jul-Sep 2012 | Date : 17 Sep , 2012

Similar to the HDW submarine contract – the Scorpene contract also provided for transfer of a comprehensive set of design know-how documents. This package was considered adequate to enable our designers to undertake any modifications and even venture into design of the next generation of single hull submarine. The catch is believed to be on account of being denied access to the linked compendium of submarine equipment and component data/specifications, along with its vendor particulars.

Development of Indigenous Ancillary Industries

In spite of the existence of the Submarine Arm for more than four decades, India has failed to encourage the development of any indigenous production base for submarine ancillaries. In the absence of such a capability, access to detail particulars of such imported components was considered a crucial element needed for systems design. A separate Government to Government Agreement was being insisted upon by the vendor for any such transfer of information. The Government failed to appreciate the importance of such an input and did not pursue it aggressively enough. Bearing in mind the national interest in attaining and perfecting an indigenous submarine design capability, this should have been included as a strategic objective of the project. This could have been obtained as a part of the main contract or even against an offset obligation. In this context, the advice of the professional members was discounted by the Acquisition bureaucrats on the Board.

India has failed to encourage the development of any indigenous production base for submarine ancillaries.

Even at that stage, a separate Government to Government Protocol to the original agreement could have achieved the objective. Additional cost involved would need to have been adjusted against the Scorpene offset obligations.

In contrast to the above cases in India, one needs to learn a lesson from the Korean experience. Korea began the construction of a submarine type 209 in collaboration with HDW much after India went in for the type 1400 submarine. Today, Korea has already graduated to exporting submarines to Indonesia.

Failing in the above objective, instead of waiting for another opportunity to open up against the next-generation conventional submarine acquisition programme (Project 75I – which may not go in favour of France) – an out-of-the-box solution should be found by making a piggy-back attempt against an ongoing mega project with France. In such cases of cross project transfer of offset assets, the biggest hurdles are more likely to arise from objections from the direct customers – IAF and HAL, rather than the suppliers. This only emphasises the need for a National Offset Management Agency.

But for want of this specific know-how, the Navy would have been on the threshold of a breakthrough in acquiring this capability of national importance. In case DCN is unwilling to find an out-of-the-box solution to this predicament, both DCN and HDW should be taken out of reckoning for any future contracts.

Further opportunity on this count will become available again with Project.75.I. In case, the option suggested against an ongoing mega French defence acquisition project does not work out then – this opportunity must not be allowed to slip by. All deficiencies in design know-how transfer must be clearly identified. All avenues must be pursued, inclusive of using the offset provision and making full use of the multiplier factor. In this case, it should be a full bore Joint Venture (JV) design, development and production contract. Validation of indigenous design should be made a contractual obligation.

Having failed on two occasions from different sources in Europe to achieve a genuine submarine design knowhow transfer – it is time for us to move on and accept the ground reality that such a transfer is not possible due to strategic commercial consideration of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). In the process of moving on from this predicament, the following needs to be given due weightage:

  • In the Indian context — a pragmatic and professional view needs to be taken on the pros and cons of selecting a double hull design against a single hull submarine.
  • Due to compulsions of circumstances – a conscious decision be taken on accepting the implications, if any, of foregoing the single hull design option for the present.
  • Wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to consolidate and build on the double hull design capability already acquired in the process of designing Arihant and take it forward to meet our conventional submarine requirements also?

All deficiencies in design know-how transfer must be clearly identified.

  • The Naval Design Bureau in Delhi is already familiar with the working environment of the potential JV partner and has built up a high level of mutual confidence. The JV partnership Agreement must fully cover all aspects of design, development and construction of a conventional submarine to the Indian Navy’s QRs.
  • The next stage would be to meet the thirty-year long IN submarine programme and also meet the import requirements of friendly neighbouring countries.

Another serious issue to be taken by the horn relates to building up of a fully fledged HRD plan to cope with the above reality. A pragmatic view must be taken to get the shipyards to gear up to take on their legitimate share of the design load. Private firms must be given the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. L&T has already established its credentials as a reliable source for submarine hull construction and integrated system design. They could be serious contenders for taking on this aspect of future submarine building programmes. The main handicap they have is the absence of a captive shipbuilding infrastructure. Interim innovative solutions can be found for such contingency also.

The Navy should not fall into the temptation of accepting the responsibility of carrying the design exercise through to the working drawing stage. For one, it will not be able to build up the cadre both in number and skills within the desired timeframe nor will it be able to provide the continuity required in performing the function efficiently. Given the opportunity the private sector would take on the challenge and deliver results.

A Missed Opportunity

As seen from above, the absence of an industrial complex capable of delivering conventional submarine parts and non-inclusion of critical documentation for the same, as part of the original contracts for HDW and DCN submarines has rendered a well-strategized naval plan, for developing a design and development capability, to a naught. The onus for which can once again be squarely laid on the narrow-minded approach of the bureaucratic institution in the Defence Acquisition Organisation.

Validation of indigenous design should be made a contractual obligation.

This brings to the fore another parallel attempt made earlier which could have partly compensated for the deficiency highlighted:

  • In the mid-1980s, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had established the Defence Machinery Development Establishment (DMDE) and the Machinery Test Centre (MTC). These establishments were tasked to develop and test machinery and systems for an indigenous special submarine programme. The task included all submarine parts pertaining to the secondary propulsion, ventilation, air-condition, hydraulic, pneumatic, steering, stabiliser, diving and surfacing system. Most of the submarine system parts required would have been functionally identical to the parts of submarine in service except that size and power ratings would have been different.
  • In the late 1980s, the recommendations were made to extend the scope of DMDE and MTC to include development of all engineering equipment and components required for the submarines in commission also. This was not conceded to on security considerations.
  • At that time the USSR was committed to supply RTDEs including manufacturing drawings and detailed material specifications for all engineering machinery and system components for projects I641K and 877EKM submarines. Majority of the documents for the I641K were already in place.
  • The concept of patents and proprietary rights was almost non-existent in the Soviet jargon. Resorting to reverse engineering with the parts available on the shelf and RTDs would have raised no eyebrows. In any case, the Soviet practice required the shipyards to produce such spare parts in house.
  •  Had the DMDE started a parallel line for development and production of specialised submarines parts for I641K and 877EKM, three decades later a flourishing ancillary industry would have been available to take on all submarine requirements for the existing and future conventional and nuclear submarines. Crores of rupees could have been saved against the import of Current Repairs (CR) and Medium Repairs (MR) spares kit.
  • As brought out earlier, along with the HDW contract for SSK, a compendium of documents listing the range of equipment, machinery and parts that form the submarine system were provided along with specifications and vendor details for each. Similar documents have been provided for the Scorpene submarine also. These data should have been sourced to develop a range of industrial complex even under the offset obligations. The CCP approved long-term submarine building/acquisition plan – could have been used as a bait to attract greater private sector participation.

The shipyards must be geared up to take on their legitimate share of the design load…

  • The growth of the Indian automobile auxiliary industry illustrates the possible advantages in taking such a route.
  • The Korean model could have been yet another option.
  • Working in closed water tight vertical silos has prevented exploitation of the commercial/industrial potential of the country and has left the design and development programme in a limbo – the price one will continue to pay for demolishing an established institutional professional arrangement for small parochial sectarian gains.
  • The status of the in-house professional institutions must be restored. Give these institutions total overall responsibility for managing their respective technologies including:
  • Research & Development
  • Induction and life time management of technology
  • Professional Training & HRD plans
  • Authority Holding Sealed Particulars (AHSP)

Note: Being a part of the Integrated Service HQs – they would still continue to be professionally responsible to the Navy.

Cost Benefit Analysis

A deeper examination of all the above cases would indicate that had a cost-benefit analysis study of the options available at that time been undertaken, the situation would have been totally different. These instances once again illustrate that the bureaucratic leadership has yet to go beyond the bazaar bargaining mentality. Their negotiating skills are limited to bargaining for a percentage cut syndrome. Most of bidders come well prepared to deal with such a situation. To highlight the pitfalls, some independent authority like CAG/PAC should undertake a deep case study of these specific cases.

It would also be observed that all the achievements identified in the above narrative were managed in spite of the development of indigenous submarine design capability not being enshrined in the long term submarine induction programme, as a policy objective. Maybe the acquisition bureaucrats would take shelter under such an excuse for their myopic attitude on the subject.


  1. R.Adm. AP Revi IN (Retd) “Naval Acquisition Matrix” IDR Vol. 21(4), Oct. 2006, p. 82.
  2. R.Adm. AP Revi, “Arihant: The Annihilator.” IDR Vol. 24(4), Oct. 2009, p. 43.
  3. R.Adm. AP Revi, “Naval Academy & HRD Challenges ahead” USI Journal, June 2009.
  4. V.Adm. Rajeshwer Nath, “Design Review of Naval Platforms” IDR Vol. 25. Jan. 2010.
  5. Interview with IDR Editor:
  • R.Adm. RM Bhatia, “Submarine Construction Represents a Core Strategic Capability.”
  • V.Adm Rajeshwer Nath. “Project 75.”

6.  Procedings of National Maritime Foundation Seminar – 21–22 Nov. 2007:

  • R.Adm. NP Gupta, “Strategic and Options — Warship Building in India.”
  • Comde R Gosh, “Integrated Quality for Higher Productivity — The Way Ahead for Defence Shipbuilding.”
  • Cmde. Sujeet Samaddar, “Offset Absorption Road Map For Indian Navy — Adding Arsenal To Armament”.
  • Cmde HS Kang. “Challenges in Shipbuilding Infrastructure.”
  • SP Ravindran. GM (Technical) BEL “Technology Inflows — Issues, Challenges and Methodology.”
  • Xavier Marchel. Senior Vice President DCNS France. “Warship Construction — An Experience Of Transformation.”
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