Strategy Page reports on the latest set of delays to hit the Indian navy’s submarine building program:
India’s effort to build six submarines (French Scorpenes), under license, has been delayed once again. The problem is mainly poor management. An example of this occurred quite recently with the departure of ten Spanish technical advisors for the Scorpenes. Their contract expired at the end of March and, despite the expiration date being well known Indian bureaucrats were unable to get a new contract in place on time. Similar avoidable delays have occurred several times already and the price has gone up with each delay. Last year it was announced that the first Scorpene sub would not be ready until 2015. The new delays push that to 2017.
Building the subs in India will leave India with thousands of workers and specialists experienced in building modern submarines. All that will be wasted because the defense procurement bureaucrats seem to have learned nothing. These officials already caused numerous delays and cost overruns during negotiations to build these diesel-electric submarines. The bureaucrats mismanaged this deal to the extent that it is now five years behind schedule. But it is even more behind schedule if you count the several years the Indian bureaucrats delayed it even getting started. The delays and mismanagement have so far increased the cost of the $4 billion project by 25 percent (to $834 million per sub).
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All this ineffective urgency is in play because India’s submarine fleet is dying of old age and new boats are not going to arrive in time. It’s not like this was a surprise, but the Indian defense procurement bureaucracy has long been noted as slow, sloppy, and stubborn, especially in the face of demands that it speed up. The twisted tale of the tardy submarines is particularly painful.
The plan was to have a dozen new subs in service by the end of the decade. At present, there will be (with a bit of luck) three or four of them in service by then. The procurement bureaucracy is still seeking a supplier for the second batch of six diesel-electric subs. This second six probably won’t even begin arriving by the end of the decade. It’s hard to say, although the defense procurement nabobs speak of “fast tracking” this project, but long-time observers not expecting speed.
There’s some urgency to all this because this year five of India’s 16 diesel-electric subs (10 Kilo and two Foxtrot class Russian built boats and four German Type 209s) were to be retired (some are already semi-retired because of age and infirmity). Because of the Scorpene delays, the Type 209s are being kept in service (but not allowed out to sea much) for several more years. That leaves India with 14 subs. But in the next year or so several of the older Kilos will reach retirement age. Thus, by the time the first Scorpene arrives in 2017, India will only have five or six working subs. India believes it needs at least 18 non-nuclear subs in service to deal with Pakistan and China.