New Delhi: With the Navy trying to speed up a new production line for the next generation diesel-electric submarines, the Defence Ministry has given its "in principle" nod to a Rs 50,000-crore project for building six vessels, but is stuck on finding a private shipyard to take on the mantle.
At a recent Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting, chaired by Defence Minister AK Antony, the urgency in having the second production line was discussed with all seriousness and the nod for the project, codenamed Project 75I, was given, a senior Defence Ministry source said here on Sunday.
"Though the Ministry is yet to work out the formula by which the submarines will be produced, it has been decided to encourage private sector to participate and take the responsibility upon themselves.
"The Ministry wants to fully utilise the private sector in the project, as the Defence Public Sector Undertaking Mazagon Docks (MDL) in Mumbai has its cup full at the moment," the source said.
Among the shipyards that could be considered to build the submarines -- the order could be split among Defence PSU and private shipyards -- are the MDL, Visakhapatnam-based Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL) acquired by the Defence Ministry last year from the Shipping Ministry and few private shipyards including the L&T`s, he said.
"However, we want the private shipyards to come forward and say they would be ready to take the project," he added.
The Navy though has put forward a formula before the DAC of placing orders for the first two of the Project 75I submarines with a foreign shipyard and take help from the foreign firms to build second line capability within India and build the remaining four indigenously.
The reasoning put forward before the DAC by the Navy was that the MDL`s production lines could not take on more orders at present, as it is constructing six Scorpene submarines under Project 75.
The Scorpene project has already been hit by a nearly three-year delay and the first of the six vessels is likely to be delivered to the Navy only by 2012, with price escalation dragging the project`s cost to over Rs 20,000 crore.
The delay in Scorpene project has already resulted in the Navy`s 30-year plan for acquiring 24 submarines go haywire.
Though the three-decade plan was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 1999, not even one of the submarines
has been inducted into the Navy yet.
The 30-year plan envisaged a three-phase acquisition with the first phase from 2000 to 2012 when the six Scorpene submarines being built at MDL with French support would be delivered to the Navy. Now, the first submarine under Project 75 is expected only by 2012 and the rest by 2017.
The second phase was the Project 75I under which six more submarines would be inducted, with the third phase provisioning for indigenous construction of 12 more submarines, as it was felt that by the time it would be built, India would have gained technology, expertise and capability to construct submarines independently.
The Navy on its part is viewing the delays with concern.
It currently operates only 15 submarines of which 10 are Kilo class, four HDW class and the remaining one a Foxtrot class.
Until a month ago, the Navy was operating two Foxtrot class submarines, bought by India in the late 60s, in the fleet when one of them was decommissioned.
At this rate of decommissioning and inductions, the Navy`s submarine fleet strength is feared to fall by another 30 percent by 2015 and by 50 per cent by 2020, the Navy has projected recently.