First Scorpene – Kalvari on Sea Trials….and Looking Beyond

Owing to raging controversy on account of VVIP helicopters scam there is increasing pressure on suspending and eventually blacklisting Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica and its subsidiary arms

Issue: 2 / 2016By Rear Admiral Sushil Ramsay (Retd)Photo(s): By Indian Navy

To be commissioned as INS Kalvari, the first of the six Scorpene class diesel-electric submarines was undocked on pontoon on April 6, 2015, in the presence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Physical presence of the Defence Minister at the undocking event was very significant and reflected the resolve of the present government to lend positive direction and push to all projects of national importance, languishing for several years for one reason or the other. On this occasion the Defence Minister had minced no words when he addressed and exhorted all stakeholders to ensure that there were no further delays, cost and time overruns to a prestigious project such as Scorpene.

Whiplash of Controversy

Owing to raging controversy on account of VVIP helicopters scam there is increasing pressure on suspending and eventually blacklisting Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica and its subsidiary arms. Sooner or later the present government will take a call on this aspect. Whiplash of such measures will certainly impact very adversely on all of Finmeccanica Group equipment and system under consideration for acquisition for various warship projects under construction at shipyards, both in public and private sectors, as well as those projects in the pipeline.

As for the present the following projects are likely to be impacted due to current quagmire:

  • Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes for six Scorpene submarines under construction at MDL.
  • High-powered air surveillance Selex Galileo Radar for indigenous aircraft carrier, Vikrant under construction at Cochin Shipyard Ltd.
  • 127mm high-calibre Otomelara guns for seven stealth frigates and four guided missile destroyers, under construction at MDL and Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata and for NOPVs under construction at Pipavav Shipyard.
  • Short range surface-to-air missile systems for four anti-submarine warfare (ASW), Kamorta class corvettes under construction at GRSE.
  • Joint development of network-centric operation systems by the Bharat Electronics in collaboration with the group.
  • Upgrade of Kamov-28, ASW helicopters for which avionics and radar was supposed to be supplied by Finmeccanica.

Floating of global tenders to identify the alternative sources and the suppliers will have to be resorted to. This will in turn entail inherent delays due to prescribed procurement procedures. The cascading delays in fresh acquisitions will have a downstream effect on the projects under construction and in the pipeline.

After completing the important milestones of vacuum test and battery loading, the Kalvari (S50) was launched at the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, on October 28, 2015, and thereafter brought back to Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) for completion of the Basin Trials and Harbour Acceptance Trials phase. After successfully overcoming several daunting challenges faced during the ‘Setting to Work’ phase and undergoing rigorous harbour testing and tuning trials, the submarine entered the most crucial phase of Sea Trials on May 1, 2016. Successful achievement of these important milestones was attributed to the combined efforts of several stakeholders, leading among them being MDL and the Indian Navy. Subject to successful and satisfactory completion of the Sea Trials phase, Kalvari was expected to be commissioned by September 2016. However, taking into account the turbulent sea states in the Arabian Sea during adverse monsoon conditions, the commissioning date now stands deferred to the latter part of the 2016. Remaining submarines of the project are expected to be delivered at an interval of nine months apart, completing the induction of all six by the year 2020.

Superior stealth technology is the core operational competence of the Scorpene. In that the submarine is designed to launch massive attacks through precision guided weapons, primarily the torpedoes as well as tube launched anti-ship missiles on the surface and sub-surface. Scorpenes are most robust to operate in all-weather conditions ensuring seamless communication and interoperability with various components of the naval task force. The stealth technology empowers Scorpene to be the ideal platform to perform both offensive and defensive roles, including mine laying, area surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering and multifarious warfare activities. Use of special steel to withstand high yield stress and tensile strength in Kalvari makes it potent to withstand hydrostatic force of high magnitude and dive deeper into the oceans, thus augmenting the dynamics of her operational deployment, many folds.

The Scorpene submarines, as per the age old naval tradition, will be christened in the names of Foxtrot class submarines inducted in 1967 for the first time to form the Submarine Arm of the Indian Navy. Mechanisms on this submarine have been designed to optimise safety; DRDO is in the process of establishing a system for carrying out structured health monitoring of under development nuclear submarines as well as future conventional submarines.

Presently, Kalvari is designed and tested to be equipped with 6 x 533-mm torpedo tubes for 18 Whitehead Alenia Sustemi Subacquei (WASS), Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes or SM.39 Exocet Anti-ship missiles and 30 mines in place of torpedoes.

Unfortunately, Kalvari, a conventional submarine without its primary weapon, the Torpedo will be equated to an underwater predator without teeth

Now, Kalvari would be armed only with MBDA’s tube-launched Exocet SM-39 antiship missiles. The contract worth USD 300 million for purchase of 98 torpedoes from WASS (a Finmeccanica/Leonardo company) has been cancelled, as it is linked to the ongoing investigation into the Euro 750 million ($861 million) import of 12 AW101 helicopters from Agusta Westland (a Finmeccanica company) facing corruption charges. Unfortunately, Kalvari, a conventional submarine without its primary weapon, the Torpedo will be equated to an underwater predator without teeth. Right from the beginning, the acquisition of Black Shark torpedoes has been mired with controversies for several years. Firstly, German major Atlas Elektronik Gmbh, manufacturers of Seahake torpedoes, lodged a complaint of the irregularities in the selection process of Black Shark and now the raging VVIP AgustaWestland helicopter scam. The media reports suggest that the Ministry of Defence are contemplating fresh global tender for purchase of torpedoes for Project 75, Scorpene submarines.

Main Characteristics of Scorpene Submarines

  • The ongoing project for the construction of six Scorpene class submarines has DCNS of France, as Collaborator and includes ‘Transfer of Technology’, with MDL as the ‘Builder’.
  • The state-of-the-art features of the Scorpene include superior stealth and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapons. The attack can be launched with torpedoes, as well as tube launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on surface. The stealth features give it invulnerability, unmatched by many submarines.
  • The Scorpene submarine is designed to operate in all theatres including the tropics. All means and communications are provided to ensure interoperability with other components of a Naval Task Force. It can undertake multifarious types of missions typically undertaken by any modern submarine i.e. anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying, area surveillance, etc.
  • he Scorpene is equipped with weapons launching tubes and can carry weapons on board which can be easily reloaded at sea, through special handling and loading equipment. The array of weapons and complex sensors fitted on board the Scorpene are managed by a high technology Combat Management System, which integrates various diverse systems fitted onboard into one formidable whole.

Perspective on Indian Navy’s Submarine Fleet

While it is hoped that the present government will ensure a holistic, pragmatic and timely solution to the current quagmire which adversely impinges upon the main characteristics of stealth of the Scorpene class, time is now most opportune to reevaluate the adverse impact of the current developments on the re-orchestrated 30-year Submarine Building Plan to induct 24 submarines to make Indian Navy’s Submarine Fleet, a viable sub-surface force. A repeat of the closing down of the first indigenous submarine production line at MDL would indeed lend a crippling blow to the mission of selfreliance and the Make in India campaign.

Project 75 India for six next generation conventional submarines with stealth technology and both Air Independent Propulsion system and land attack capability for longer underwater endurance and flexibility of operational deployment, seems nowhere on the horizon. If the reports doing rounds were to be believed, the project does not seem to have progressed beyond the request for information stage. The mounting cost of the Project is another cause for concerns due to delays, in addition to seven to eight years of gestation period before the first boat rolls out.

Three nuclear-powered submarines (SSBNs) are under construction at Visakhapatnam, with lead submarine of the project Arihant currently engaged with the final sets of extensive Sea Acceptance Trials before her impending commissioning, any time in the near future. In addition, the Government has also approved the construction of six nuclear-powered submarines (SSNs) at a project cost of over Rs. 50,000 crore. These highly complex, topend technologies intensive and sophisticated SSNs will entail prolonged gestation period of at least a decade and more, before the lead submarine is inducted.

As of now the nuclear-powered submarine fleet of Indian Navy comprises a sole unit, INS Chakra, SSN on lease from Russia but without the nuclear tipped missiles. Negotiations are on for lease of a larger Akula class nuclear submarine from Russia to be used for operational training purposes.

Dwindling force levels of Indian Navy’s submarine fleet has remained a serious cause for concern for over a decade-and-ahalf. The present inventory of nine Russian origin Kilo class and four German origin Shishumar (HDW) class conventional submarines is woefully inadequate to safeguard the maritime security interests of the country within its domain of interest. Low levels of operational units which largely suffer from the old vintage syndrome compounds the abysmal situation of the submarine fleet.