PARIS --- France’s willingness to sell SM-39 Exocet submarine-launched anti-ship missiles, as well as the boats’ air-independent propulsion (AIP) system, are the two main reasons India opted for the French-Spanish Scorpene submarines rather than the competing Type 214 boats offered by Germany.
AIP allows conventional submarines to remain submerged for long periods without having to surface to recharge their batteries. Scorpene boats can remain submerged for as long as 50 days, at depths of up to 300 meters, sources say.
While the German Type 214 class also offers air-independent propulsion, albeit of a different technology, its weapon fit consists primarily of torpedoes and does not include an anti-ship missile. Scorpene’s combination of AIP and sub-surface launched missile will give Indian submarines the capability to attack surface ships and shore targets from ranges of more than 50 km. while remaining submerged, and thus relatively immune from detection.
Despite this competitive advantage, Indian press reports say that France had to agree to a substantial discount to clinch the sale of the six submarines, as the competing German offer was “considerably less expensive,” according to a German industry official.
Considerable confusion surrounds the deal’s value, which has been variously been pegged at between 1.5 billion US dollars and 2.4 billion euros ($3.2 billion). The actual role of various French companies involved in the deal also is unclear.
In fact, the contract might be worth substantially more. India has a long-term plan, originally designated Project 75, to build up to 24 non-nuclear attack submarines over a period of 30 years. Although its present status is unclear, it is likely that if construction of the first six Scorpenes is successful India might decide to build additional boats.
French naval contractors, in the run-up to industry’s restructuring, are scrambling to claim the greatest credit for the deal. France’s state-owned Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN), for example, said that it is “the industrial prime contractor” and that it “will be in charge of the technology transfer and delivery of all services and equipment,” adding that Armaris and UDS International, a joint DCN/Thales subsidiary, will supply the boats’ SUBTICS combat systems.
However, an Armaris official said the company is in fact the designated prime contractor, and will sign the main contract with India’s Mazagon Dockyards Limited, which will build the submarines under license in Mumbai. Final signature of the contract is expected in a “matter of days,” he said, adding that deal will be worth about 2 billion euros, including weapons fit and license fee, of which Armaris will receive 1 billion to 1.5 billion euros. “However, there is still a negotiating margin, and no final figure has yet been agreed to,” he said Sept. 13.
Thales, which is providing the submarines’ electronics, values its share of the deal at 600 million euros. MBDA France will provide 40 SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missiles, while Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica, will supply Black Shark heavyweight wire-guided torpedoes.
In addition to the supply of submarine components, the deal also includes transfer of the related technology to Mazagon Docks. A substantial share of the revenue from the contract will go the Spain’s Navantia shipyards, formerly IZAR, which owns a 50-percent share of the Scorpene design along with DCN.
Construction of the six Scorpene boats will allow India to revive its Mazagon Docks shipyards, which have been idle for several years after having completed construction of the Indian Navy’s previous submarines, the German-designed Type 209, in 2001. The Scorpene submarines are to be delivered to the Indian Navy between 2010 and 2015.
India will be free to market the submarines to third countries, sources say, but this has not been confirmed by France. Taiwan is one potential export customer. Washington has promised to provide Taiwan with at least six submarines, but this plan is stymied because US shipyards are not capable of building conventionally-powered subs. Dutch and German shipyards, which are, cannot sell to Taiwan, directly or indirectly, because of their governments’ restrictions on arms exports.
With the recent warming of diplomatic and defense relations between New Delhi and Washington, a trilateral arrangement in which the United States paid India to supply Scorpene subs to Taiwan appears an attractive solution.
Current plans call for Indian Navy Scorpenes to be based at Karwar, south of Mumbai on the Arabian seaboard, where the Indian Navy is building a large new base with new, secure submarine pens.
The 1,500 metric tonne Scorpene submarines have an operational cycle of 240 days a year, and a patrol endurance of up to 50 days. In peacetime, they will be used for surveillance and intelligence-gathering on both of India’s coasts, and they are also capable of a wide range of mission such as mine warfare and special operations.
The Indian Navy currently operates 10 Russian Kilo-class submarines and four German HDW Type 209 boats as well as two older Foxtrot-class boats also supplied by Russia.