Six advanced submarines will be built under project P-75I to scale up the Indian Navy’s undersea warfare capabilities and counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet

The defence ministry on Tuesday cleared two Indian and five foreign shipbuilders to take part in a Rs 50,000-crore project to build high-tech submarines in the country, one of the biggest Make in India programs in the military sector, two senior officials said on condition of anonymity.

Six advanced submarines will be built under project P-75I to scale up the Indian Navy’s undersea warfare capabilities and counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet. The project will be pursued under the government’s ‘strategic partnership’ (SP) model, which seeks to provide fillip to the government’s Make in India program.

“The defence acquisition council (DAC) approved the shortlisting of Indian strategic partners and potential original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who would collaborate to construct six conventional submarines in India,” the defence ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Indian strategic partners cleared to collaborate with the foreign OEMs are Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited and L&T, said one of the officials cited above. The foreign yards they can team up with for the project are the French Naval Group, German conglomerate Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Spain’s Navantia and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Company, he said. A joint venture between the Adani Group and state-owned Hindustan Shipyard Limited was rejected by an empowered committee as it did not meet the eligibility criteria for being shortlisted as a strategic partner, the second official said.

Headed by the defence minister, the DAC is India’s top defence procurement body that evaluates and green-lights acquisition proposals made by the armed forces.

The other members of the council are the minister of state for defence, the chief of defence staff, the three service chiefs, the defence secretary, secretary defence research and development, secretary defence production, and director general, acquisition.

General Bipin Rawat attended the DAC meeting for the first time as the Chief of Defence Staff.

The defence ministry said the DAC approved procurement of equipment worth over Rs 5,100 crore from indigenous sources. The military hardware cleared for purchase includes electronic warfare systems for the army. The council also approved “prototype testing” of trawl assemblies, designed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation, for T-72 and T-90 tanks to boost the army’s indigenous de-mining capability.

“Today’s decisions are also in keeping with the mandate given to the CDS and the newly constituted department of military affairs to promote use of indigenous hardware by the services,” the statement added.

The ministry’s statement said the SP model sought to promote India as a manufacturing hub for defence equipment and establish an industrial and R&D ecosystem capable of meeting the military’s future requirements.

“It’s necessary for the P-75I program to make concrete contribution to submarine building capacity in India but in a way that also helps us towards indigenisation as has been achieved for nuclear submarines,” said military affairs expert Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande (Retd). Apart from next-generation submarines, the SP model covers fighter planes, choppers and armoured vehicles.

Last January, the DAC approved the submarine-building project under the SP model to bolster the navy’s underwater force levels. It was the second project to be cleared under the SP model after the DAC, in August 2018, approved a project to build 111 naval utility helicopters in the country to replace the navy’s outdated fleet of French-designed Chetak choppers. The NUH project is worth Rs 21,738 crore. It will take years for the submarine project to materialise as the process is quite long-drawn out.

The ministry will take the project forward by issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) to the shortlisted Indian strategic partners who will then respond with techno-commercial offers in collaboration with one of the shortlisted OEMs. In exceptional cases, rules allow the Indian strategic partner to submit techno-commercial offers in collaboration with two OEMs. The next steps will involve opening and evaluation of technical offers, trials, staff evaluation, opening of commercial offers of companies technically compliant with the RFP and finally, the selection of the strategic partner with the lowest bid.

The council also gave its approval to include Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX) in the Defence Procurement Procedure “to provide avenues in capital procurement for the armed forces to startups and innovators.”