Military & Aerospace

Project 75 (India) and the Australian Submarine Programme
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Issue Vol. 33.1 Jan-Mar 2018 | Date : 01 Jul , 2018

The final choice of platform under project 75(I) should, therefore, be based not only on the quality of the submarine, but also on the extent of TOT and certain other factors which would be given appropriate weightage and be matrixed with the cost to determine the final strategic partner and OEM combine. Identifying these factors and assigning them inter se weightage is an involved process. While some of these factors can be culled out of the RFI/RFP, there are others factors that would be governed by our past experience, a pragmatic analysis of operational imperatives and the external environment.

Australia initiated plans to replace the Collins class submarines, with a study titled ‘Future Submarine Programme’ or SEA 1000 somewhere in 2009, though the preliminary work had started in 2007. They inked the $40-billion contract with DCNS for twelve Shortfin Barracuda submarines in early 2017, and the first submarine is now likely to sail in 2030. Similarly in India, while the concept of a second submarine production line was articulated in the CCS paper in 1999, the first concrete step was taken only in 2010, when a two-page RFI for Project 75(I) was promulgated. This initiative turned out to be stillborn and the project was re-activated in May 2017, with the promulgation of the Strategic Partnership (SP) framework, as part of DPP 2016. This was followed by the promulgation of a detailed RFI to foreign OEMs, in mid-July 2017.

Notwithstanding our poor track record of procedural and decision-making delays, it may be realistic to expect the signing of contract for P 75(I) in end 2019/early 2020 and cutting of steel by early 2022. The induction and deployment of the first of these submarine would probably be around 2032. Further, both nations are determined that the current programme must not only deliver state-of-the-art submarines, but, more importantly, establish an indigenous eco-system which would ensure that the next class of submarines are designed and built in the country. Thus, the timelines as well as the intended deliverables of our Project 75(I) and the Australian SEA 1000 programme are ‘comparable’; at least for the purposes of the ‘broad analysis’.

While it is only natural that we analyse the factors that may have influenced Australia’s choice of the Shortfin Barracuda, we must also undertake a parallel analysis to evaluate who our likely three top contenders are, and what ought to be the criteria which should impact our final selection.

Why Australia Chose the French Shortfin Barracuda

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) needed a multi-role, long endurance, long range submarine capable of taking part in joint operations with allies. This submarine was to replace the existing Collins Class, which are among the largest diesel electric submarines in the world. This translated to an above 3,000-tonne submarine. Accordingly, the Australian government shortlisted three contenders – the German Type 216, the Japanese Soryu Class and the French Shortfin Barracuda, an evolved version of the SSN. The Kilo, Scorpene, Type 214, Swedish A26 were eliminated.

A major aspect of submarine design is that if the hull form for a 30-knot platform is designed, other issues such as stealth, control surface optimisation and hydrodynamics are intrinsically taken care of. Thereafter, even if such a high speed platform is initially designed for lower speeds, subsequent technological upgrades are not only viable, but also extremely cost effective. Thus such a platform design caters for subsequent upgrades, as the Transfer of Technology (TOT) assimilation and the indigenous industry mature with time. This probably impacted the final Australian decision more than other criteria.

Type 216 Submarines

The Type 216 offered by Germany was an enlarged (4,000 tonne) Type 214. It met all operational and technical requirements of the RAN. Australia chose DCNS over tKMS, despite the fact that the German offer was nearly half of the $40 billion quoted by the French. Design of submarines requires a pre-sizing capability of the yard. For example, the basic speed and endurance requirements drive the electrical and engine power requirements of the submarine, which themselves impact the volume and compartments of the submarine. Further, in large submarines, all the equipment needs to be oversized and this impacts everything – larger power requirement, larger sea water systems and more space and weight. Therefore, this pre-sizing capability of the designer was considered essential. The designer’s pre-sizing capability is based on both, experience well as empirical knowledge. However, empirical laws or design rules are not linear. Thus the Australians felt that tKMS which has experience of building only 2,000-tonne submarines cannot necessarily rely on their experience and knowledge when designing the 4,000-tonne Type 216.

Soryu Class Submarines

Notwithstanding the tonnage of the Soryu class, its performance is quite similar to a ‘medium modern SSK’, similar to a Kilo or Type 214. Within a few days of departing from their port, Japanese submarines are on patrol in North Korean and Chinese waters. Thus, while, their 6,000nm range of operations meet the unique needs of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF), they do not meet the needs of the Australians or any other navy aspiring to operate ocean going submarines.

To meet the Australian need of long range and endurance, the Soryu was to be modified with a new AIP system and new Lithium–Ion batteries, among other things. Further, the length would need to be increased by six to eight metres to meet the requirement of additional fuel and enhanced habitability due to distant and longer deployments. The fitment of Lithium-Ion batteries also entailed completely new electrical architecture, ventilation system as well as new engines to optimise the use of these batteries. The end result would again be a new design due to the major modifications required.

Another major factor was the build technologies required in the Soryu that has an operating depth of 900 metres. The metallurgy and welding technology required for such a pressure hull and other sea-water systems would be unique, state-of-the-art and extremely demanding. Whether the industrial ecosystem of Australia or for that matter any other nation, attempting to establish such an ecosystem indigenously, can absorb such complex technology or not, is a moot point. Finally, Japan’s lack of experience in TOT management and industrial cooperation in the sphere of complex defence programmes, may have also influenced the Australian decision.

The Shortfin Barracuda

DCNS proposed an ‘evolution’ of their Barracuda-class SSN into a conventional submarine, fully compliant with needs of an ‘ocean going’ Navy. This implied that its hull form, control surfaces hydrodynamic, stealth techniques, machinery and platform systems – all were designed for speeds of above 30 knots. The Shortfin Barracuda exceeded the capabilities of its competitors in terms of speed, endurance and weapons. Its designed transit speed is at least 40 per cent higher than others. This alone is significant as it can deploy faster, further and remain on patrol for a longer duration. Also, DCNS comes with the extensive experience of designing and building large submarines and is used to complex defence programmes involving local partners and indigenous ecosystem.

Finally, while the current political and security environment of Australia may not demand a nuclear-capable navy, if the trajectory of the regional geo-political calculus is any indication, such a need in the future, cannot be ruled out. Under such a scenario, the only submarine which can be scaled up to a nuclear SSN is the Shortfin Barracuda. Thus, the choice of the Shortfin Barracuda over its contenders may have also been influenced by this strategic need. No other factor seems to justify their decision to pay $41 billion for 12 boats to DCNS for the Shortfin Barracuda as against the $20-billion price tag for the same number of Type 216 offered by tKMS.

Likely Contenders and Crucial Criteria For Evaluation – Project 75 (India)

Based on the aforesaid analysis, it may be prudent to assess the likely ‘top three contenders’ for India’s Project 75(I) and list the ‘criteria of significance’ which should and are likely to form part of the evaluation process. This is being attempted despite the inadequate and unconfirmed information currently available in the open domain.

Likely Contenders

It is understood that the RFI for Project 75(I) is addressed to six foreign OEMs. As mentioned earlier, no existing submarine type (Type 214, Scorpene, Kilo) meets the requirements of P-75(I). The Spanish S80 and Swedish A26 are extremely unlikely to be in the top three for reasons similar to the Australian programme – their under-development submarines are unlikely to meet our QRs and their ability to design ocean-going submarines of above 3,000-tonne is unproven/suspect.

While the Soryu was a serious contender for the Australian programme, it is unlikely to be in the top three for Project 75(I). The reasons are similar to ones which prompted the Australians to reject the Soryu for their SEA1000 programme. In addition, there are serious apprehensions whether the Japanese would be willing to transfer design and build technologies as envisaged in the RFI and can the advanced engineering and metallurgical technologies used in this class, be absorbed by our yards and be supported thereafter by the existing indigenous industrial ecosystem?

The Russian design, on the other hand, though not considered by Australia, is certain to be a contender for the Indian programme. Our experience of operating Russian submarines dates back to over 50 years and they have been strategic partners for the indigenous ATV program.

The French DCNS and German tKMS continue to remain the top contenders for the Indian project 75(I); as was the case in the Australian programme. Thus the top three contenders for Project 75(I), in no order of preference, would be the Russian ‘Modified Amur’, the French ‘Shortfin Barracuda’ and the German ‘Type 216’ classes. As on date, none of these submarines exist and would require to be designed and built to meet our specific requirements.

Evaluation of Options for Project 75(India) – ‘Criterion of Significance’

The RFI promulgated is detailed and comprehensive. Its tone and tenor does give a fair idea of what can be expected in the subsequent RFP and the final evaluation process. Based on the currently available inputs and our appreciation of the external environment, an attempt is being made to identify ten likely ‘criterion of significance’ for evaluating the contenders. The fact, that selection of criteria and their weightage is a dynamic process, is well understood.

Project Cost

The acquisition cost of the Shortfin Barracuda to the RAN is quoted to be $4.3 billion per boat. This is more than twice the tKMS offer to build 12 boats of Type 216 at Adelaide at $1.66 billion per boat. As per open literature, the cost of the nuclear Barracuda to the French government is $2.3 billion, the cost of the Virginia class is $3.6 billion and a Soryu-class built in Japan is $0.75 billion. The international price of a modern SSK is about a billion. The projected acquisition cost of six SSKs under Project 75(I) is about Rs 60,000 crore, which translates to about $1.0 billion per boat. Even if these figures are indicative, the moot questions is firstly, can the French now quote a substantially lower cost of the Shortfin Barracuda for our programme and secondly, notwithstanding certain superior tech parameters with additional weightage, can the Indian decision maker, ignore a substantially lower L1, in favour of a much higher quote?

Fuel Cell AIP System

The only fully developed and sea-proven fuel cell system is the German system (PEMFC + metallic Hydrides for H2 Storage). Since the metal Hydride-based Hydrogen storage solution was found to be unsuitable for 2,000-tonne plus displacement, Germany chose to go in for methanol reformer-based FC system, in conjunction with the improved PEM fuel cells. Prior to deciding on this approach, in 2007, the German federal government funded tKMS to conduct a methanol vs diesel reformer study. The study results were instructive. The hydrogen to carbon ratio of diesel is only 2:1 as against 4:1 of methanol. The diesel reformers run at 8500 C, which translates to higher heat inefficiencies (which, in a submarine, translates to enhanced thermal signatures, higher air-conditioning capacities and hotel loads) and longer start-up times, when compared to methanol. Finally, since the diesel carried by submarines is not sulphur free, the output at the reformer requires a sulphur purifier, which is as big as the reformer itself. The German reformer-based second generation Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system for the 4,000-tonne Type 216 is undergoing set-to-work at Kiel and is designed to provide the Type 216 with an AIP endurance of 30 days.

The French and Russian systems are under development and are unlikely to be operationalised before 2025. The Lada programme of the Russian Navy (the export version being the Amur 1650) has been discontinued after the first boat, for various reasons, including the non-availability of an AIP. Even the Australian French Short fin Barracuda is without an AIP system. The indigenous fuel cell system under development by NMRL uses a Sodium boro-hydride H2 generators and Phosphoric acid fuel cells. This technology has been used on land-based applications since 2010, but has not been put on a maritime platform anywhere in the world due to serious safety concerns. Its application in the closed, hazardous and hostile environment of a submarine in the perceivable future is highly unlikely. Thus, the only proven fuel cell AIP available is the German system. They should also be our first choice to help us in our indigenisation effort.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Cmde CP Srivastava

is a veteran submariner and the Director, Intellectual Resource and Consulting.

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