India's next-generation diesel-electric submarine program, Project-75I, is once again facing delays

According to an India Today report, "the Project-75I program, which has seen repeated delays over the last decade and a half and had only shown signs of forward movement this year, has once again hit a wall, potentially delaying the program even further."

Just last month, the Indian Navy's team was in Germany analysing the performance of the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) System on offer to the Indian Navy.

Now, the Indian Navy team is in Spain to analyse the performance of the Spanish AIP system.

However, according to the report, the Spanish AIP system is still not proven in real-world conditions, and the system will only complete certification by the end of the year.

Therefore, the Indian government is considering delaying the program until Spain is able to fully prove its AIP system.

Notably, one of the main criteria of the Project-75I program was to have a fully-proven AIP system, which has only been demonstrated by the German U-212 submarines. None of the other contenders, including France, Russia, and South Korea, have fully proven and operationally deployed such a system.

This, along with other stringent demands in the request for proposal (RFP), caused many contenders — French, Russian, and South Korean — to back out of the tender.

This left only two contenders, Spain and Germany.

If Spain is disqualified from the program due to the proven AIP requirement, it will become a single-vendor situation, which will force the navy to re-issue the RFP once again, delaying the program further.

That is why the Indian government is considering delaying the programme until Spain proves the AIP system.

All this while the Chinese and the Pakistanis are leaving India far behind.

China last month launched the first of the eight Hangor-class submarines that it is exporting to Pakistan. The first four of these submarines will be built in China, while the remaining four will be built in Pakistan under a transfer of technology (ToT) agreement.

Pakistan already has French Agosta-90B submarines equipped with AIP.

The eight Hangor-class submarines will also have AIP.

Even the latest French-acquired Scorpene submarines, known as the Kalvari class in Indian Navy service, do not have AIP. DRDO-designed AIP will be installed on these submarines when the first Scorpene submarine, INS Kalvari, goes for a refit in late 2024.

The Indian Navy fleet of 16 submarines is very old, where except for the newer six Scorpene submarines, all the remaining seven Sindhughosh class (Russian-made Kilo submarines) and four Shishumar class (German U-209) submarines are three to four decades old.

The Chinese, with their 66 submarines, are increasing their forays in the Indian Ocean while simultaneously arming Pakistan, which is a cause of concern for the Indian Navy.

It is to address these concerns that the navy has decided to buy three more Scorpene-class submarines from France, which will have DRDO-designed AIP installed on them. But how long that acquisition will take, in light of the slow procurement process of India’s Ministry of Defence, remains to be seen.

(With Reporting by India Today, Swarajyamag)