One of the navy’s most vital purchases – the contract for six new-generation submarines under what is dubbed Project 75-I – will take another two-to-three years in tendering, revealed the navy’s warship acquisitions chief on Monday. This is because the contract, worth an estimated Rs 50,000 crore, will be India’s last overseas submarine procurement and hence the last chance to obtain the technology for building the next 12 submarines, which the government insists must be fully indigenous.

“When interacting with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) we have to be very clear that, after this technology transfer, we should be able to build our [future] submarines ourselves”, said Vice Admiral AK Saxena, Controller of Warships Production and Acquisition in New Delhi.

The 30-year submarine building plan of 1999 mandates building 12 submarines with foreign technology transfer, and the next 12 vessels indigenously.

Saxena is the first naval officer to acknowledge that insufficient technology has been transferred during the on-going Project 75, which involves building six single-hulled, Scorpene-class submarines with knowhow from French-Spanish shipbuilder Armaris (now Naval Group).

“The depth of design transfer is not that high as we would have liked and that technology gap is what we are going to fill up with Project 75-I”, he said.

Saxena also acknowledged that India was better at building nuclear submarines than conventional ones. “Our design capability is currently more focused towards strategic platforms (nuclear submarines)”, he said.

Consequently, negotiating the “scope, bandwidth and depth of technology transfer” with the Project 75-I OEMs will be vital, said Saxena. “We will have to ensure that our SPs, that is the Indian shipbuilders, are able to absorb whatever is being provided by the OEMs. It will all depend upon how forthcoming the OEMs are…” he said.

Project 75-I is being executed under strategic partner (SP) framework. This requires foreign OEMs to provide technology and manufacturing knowhow to an Indian SP shipyard, chosen from either the private or public sector.

Leading the fray for selection as SP are Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and L&T’s Kathupalli Shipyard, near Chennai. The navy will also invite Reliance Naval (RNAVAL) to bid, given the capacity of its Pipavav Shipyard. However, RNAVAL’s financial situation might not meet the tender’s tough financial eligibility conditions, mandated in a March 20 amendment to the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016.

The navy had earlier taken a stance against RNAVAL, which is years late in delivering an order for naval offshore patrol vessels (NOPVs). However, Saxena said RNAVAL was finally making headway on delivering the first NOPV and that “By the end of the year, it will be clear whether RNAVAL will be able to deliver or not.”

Saxena expressed optimism that the OEM and SP would meet the challenging 50 per cent indigenous requirement of Project 75-I. However, he appeared to dilute the mandated terms, indicating it would be achieved only later in the project.

“Achieving indigenous content of 50 per cent is the progressive value we are looking at. It will progressively rise from a certain value and reach or exceed 50 per cent”, he said.