The Strategic Partnership (SP) policy for defence manufacturing, in slow motion right from its inception in 2017, got some push recently with the ministry of defence (MoD) seeking a request for proposals (RFPs) from two shortlisted Indian firms for manufacturing submarines under the P75I project of the Indian Navy.
Private sector engineering company Larson &Toubro (L&T) and defence public sector unit (DPSU) Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) will compete for the first project ever under the SP mode. The outcome of this RFP will have far-reaching implications for the country’s defence industry.
India’s conventional submarine fleet (15, including the three new Scorpenes) urgently needs the induction of new equipment in sufficient numbers to counter the threat from China which has been expanding its submarine fleet at a furious pace. Today, China has over 50 conventional submarines. Building a new submarine fleet as quickly as possible will be one of the key determinants of India’s effectiveness in countering China in the IOR.
If our current experience in manufacturing the Scorpene submarines by MDL under licence from French company DCNS is any indication, the country may have to wait for several decades before 25-30 new submarines are built. The MDL has taken more than a decade and a half to deliver three of them.
MDL’s experience curve notwithstanding, the time it may take for a new batch of six is anybody’s guess. Moreover, its track record of technology absorption and indigenisation is unedifying.