NEW DELHI — India has launched the second French Scorpene-class submarine, but the Khanderi will not be equipped with torpedoes because the $200 million tender to buy them remains undecided by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) since it was created five years ago.
The MoD has put on hold the acquisition of 98 Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes, to be mounted on Scorpene submarines from WASS, a subsidiary of Italian firm Leonardo.
Plans to procure Black Shark torpedoes for the Indian Navy from WASS was canceled in May, an MoD spokesman confirmed with Defense News last year. The decision came in the wake of corruption charges involving another subsidiary of Leonardo, AgustaWestland and the Indian National Congress political party.
With the Khanderi's launch on Thursday, the sub is set to undergo rigorous trials until the end of the year. When the trials are over, the sub will be commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Khanderi, an Indian Navy official explained.
The MoD expects the sub to be delivered to the Navy by mid-2017.
"The force strength of submarines is very low at this point. The reason for this situation is the closure of Shisumar (German HDW) class project and delay in the Scorpene project. The existing submarines are less than 25 years old. With this background, launch of the second submarine at [state-owned Mazagon Dock Limited] MDL is of great importance," retired Indian Navy Captain Shyam Kumar Singh offered.
However, Anil Jai Singh, a retired Indian Navy commodore and defense analyst, believes there is still room for improvement in India's submarine industry. "Submarine construction in India will truly come of age when we are able to design and build our own submarines. The first two Scorpene submarines have been built in India to complete specifications provided by DCNS France. In this case, most of the submarine is imported with some indigenous content," he said.
The Khanderi is part of six Scorpene-class submarines being built by MDL under a $3.5 billion contract signed in 2004 between India and DCNS of France.
The Scorpene-building program is behind by more than three years and its cost has escalated by more than $1 billion. The first of the six Scorpene-class subs, Kalvari, is at sea but is yet to be officially inducted, the Indian Navy official noted.
The program's delay has been attributed by MoD officials to low-level absorption of complex technology during its early years, augmentation of MDL infrastructure and procurement of MDL-purchased material.
An Australian newspaper on Aug. 24, 2016, reported that thousands of pages of presumably secret submarine documents were on the loose. The news threatened the operational security of India’s new Scorpene-class submarines, prompting India's MoD to decide against mounting French air-independent propulsion systems on the last of the two Scorpene subs, leaving the possibility of additional orders remote.
"Considering the time frame of first submarine to be commissioned by 2018 and optimistically one every year, the current program will go on till 2023. Placement of further orders with old specifications may not be prudent at this stage," Singh said.
The strength of the Indian Navy's submarines has dwindled from a total of 21 submarines in the 1980s to 13 conventional submarines plus one homemade Arihant-class nuclear submarine and one Russian Akula-class submarine operating on lease. China, in comparison, has a strength of 65 subs, which "is a matter concern," the Indian Navy official said.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.