VISAKHAPATNAM: Is the government of India having second thoughts on a plan to refit two Russian built EKM class submarines indigenously at an Indian shipyard?

The “delay” in award of a major contract of the Medium Refit and Life Certification (MRLC) of an EKM class submarine is making the management of the Hindustan Shipyard Limited frazzled and assume so.

The Vizag based HSL was the only domestic shipyard to submit bid for the MRLC of a Russian built submarine of the Indian Navy in March as reported by the ToI earlier.

Speaking to ToI in June, LV Sarat Babu, CMD of HSL was confident of bagging the contract in July but on Monday said that the ministry of defence is yet to take a call on the project worth around Rs 1,400 crore.

The government had in 2014-15 decided to go for MRLC of four Russian built EKM submarines. While work on two of the submarines is underway in Russia, the other two were planned to undergo the MRLC process at an Indian shipyard, with Russian help.

The MRLC of INS Sindhuratna, the third one is to begin this year. The refit process which would take three years to complete is expected to extend the life of the submarine (which completed 25 years) by about 10 years.

The HSL, abutting the Naval Dockyard here and the Larsen & Toubro shipyard at Kattupalli near Chennai were marked as the qualified shipbuilding and repairs units for this task.

“While we submitted our bid on time by March 8, L&T could not. Since then negotiations are going on in the Navy, defence ministry and I appealed for the contract to be given to HSL since we are emphatic that this would mark a major step towards the indigenisation or self-reliance in terms of our submarine operations,” Babu said during the annual press conference.

“If given a go-ahead today, I am prepared to start the MRLC process tomorrow. But this delay is giving me an apprehension that there is possibly a different school of thought (on where the refit should be done),” Babu told ToI in response to a question.

Rear Admiral (Retd) Babu, who was a submariner while he was serving in the Navy, says that the HSL has lately acquired a lot of expertise with the on-going normal refit of INS Sindhuvir which commenced in August 2017.

“If there is a war tomorrow, a submarine is the first war vessel to go first into the waters to fight and return last. When your own shipyard is waiting for the letter of intent, keeping a submarine non-operational for nine months is a blunder,” Babu says referring to INS Sindhuratna “tied at Mumbai, non-operational from November 2017.”

The HSL CMD finally says, “Give the project to L&T if not to HSL but don’t let it go to Russia. Besides the loss economically, it would be a disgrace to our country if it goes to Russia when we are celebrating 50 years of submarine operations.”