Project 75 India is a proposal to design and construct 6 submarines for $10 billion. First Request for Information was placed on foreign shipyards a decade ago, in 2008. It was rebooted in 2014 with shipyards from France, Russia, Sweden and Germany submitting their bids

by Sandeep Unnithan

'Project 75 India', an ambitious proposal to design and construct six indigenous conventional submarines for $10 billion (over Rs 70,000 crore) is one of India's longest delayed defence projects.

It was conceived over two decades ago and the first Request for Information was placed on foreign shipyards a decade ago, in 2008. The process was rebooted in 2014 with shipyards from France, Russia, Sweden and Germany submitting their bids last year.

The project is also part of the government's Strategic Partnerships policy for defence industry where the MoD will approve tie-ups between Indian and foreign shipyards. Among the highlights of the recently concluded Defexpo-2018 in Chennai was an MoU signed between L&T and Russia's state-owned arms export firm Rosoboronexport for the production of Project 75I submarines.

In an interview with India Today Executive Editor Sandeep Unnithan, Andrei Baranov, Deputy Director General of Russia's submarine designer Rubin talks of why his country is best positioned to win the contract.

SU: You have strong competition from Germany, Russia and Sweden for this project. What does Rubin bring to the table that western companies don't?

AB: Russia's relations with India in the field of submarines are very deep, very long. India's first four submarines of the Foxtrot class came from the former Soviet Union over 50 years ago. And since then, there have been many other submarines including ten Kilo class. The level of our understanding between industry and designers, Russian and Indian, are very deep and this is important because, the actual submarine is just one part of this contract.

The second part is the more challenging one developing cooperation with Indian industry, setting up manufacturing facilities, training and design centres etc.

We are better than our competitors in terms of knowledge, transfer of design technology and state of the art design technology for Indian industry. We are ready to establish cooperation with Indian industry, to source materials from local industry and build partnerships at the initial stage. For instance here (at DefExpo) we have planned approximately interactions with 40 Indian industrial partners for the project.

SU: What is the timeframe of building the Project 75I project in India?

AB: The timeframe is impossible to estimate. It all depends on the cooperation between our industry, your shipyard and the customer, the Indian Navy, but in our practice, to develop a first-in-the class submarine like 75I it will mean creating surrounding industry, identifying industrial partners, infrastructure, qualified personnel, the whole industrial ecosystem we need roughly five years, from start of construction.

We have indicated to your navy that real time frame from contract signing to the commissioning of the first boat is seven years including the development and research stage.

SU: How different or complex is the requirement for the Project 75I project?

AB: We feel a stretched version of the Amur 1650, meets the requirements of your navy. If you start with procedure, your navy will recieve this high-end submarine in ten years. But if we continue talking and talking, then we will need some updates in technology, because I don't know what will be the needs of the (Indian) navy after ten years.

SU: What is the time frame for the contract to proceed?

AB: Based on our information from India's Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff, it's the following. After the RFP, we will have approximately six to nine months to prepare the reply. After India will evaluate the reply. Then the technical committee will evaluate it and after that will be the process of L1 (identifying the cheapest bid). Then, the MoD will begin contract negotiations with the winner. Contract conditions are very complex.

There are many surrounding sides and the navy proposed it will take one year for it to start. We are ready to start this technical design process immediately after this is announced. Using our own resources. We are ready to supply a functional design of the submarine to our partner within one year of the contract signing.

After the contract will be signed, we can start with the working design and, in parallel, establish the chain of sub contractors with the shipyard. The actual construction will take six to seven years. It will take more or less ten years for the first submarine to be delivered.

SU: Are the requirements of the P75I submarine very unusual?

AB: Each navy has its own requirements. What the Indian Navy is looking for is a conventional platform with AIP which can carry torpedoes and BrahMos cruise missiles. The displacement will be of less than 3,000 tonnes.

SU: What is unique about the model Russia is offering?

AB: It's a completely new design based on our Amur 1650 prototype. But as per the understanding, the drawing will be developed in collaboration with the Indian partner (L&T) which will then construct the submarine.

SU: Your design bureau is also involved in the refit and upgrade of four older 877 EKMs in Russia and India for $208 million each. These submarines are nearly 30 years old. Does the refit actually make sense?

AB: Two 877 EKMs are already in Russia for a second refit (Sindhuraj and Sindhukesari) and we are talking to Hindustan Shipyard Ltd for the refit of two more in India. The Kilos in our navy are even older. There is no problem to upgrade them if the pressure hull is in good condition. We can easily add over ten years to their life and certify them. There won't be any change in diving depth. Our role as the designer is to create the necessary drawings for modification, because for instance, your navy wants to install a new sonar in these submarines.