Indian Navy Orders Additional Submarines of the Kalveri Class

When the visionary Manohar Parrikar was India’s Defense Minister, he told then-Navy Chief Admiral Robin K. Dhowan that the Indian Navy should buy three more Kalveri (Scorpene) class submarines instead of buying six new Project 75 I submarines with air independent propulsion.

Admiral Dhowan did not agree, so in September 2016, the options clause for Project 75, which was approved by the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003, was taken away.

The Ministry of Defense put out a request for proposals (RFP) on July 20, 2021, for six Project 75 I-class submarines with AIPs that would cost 40,000 crore. Since it usually takes at least 10 to 15 years for the Indian military and civilian bureaucracy to finish a big purchase, this means that the current Scorpene submarine line at MDL will go to seed, and the next set of 75 I-class submarines won’t be built until the late 2030s, with a new massive investment on the submarine line. All of this seems to be about to change.

In the meantime, the Japanese Soryu class submarines with lithium-ion batteries that can be charged faster and last longer have replaced the AIP-equipped submarines. The range of the submarine is greatly increased because the lithium-ion batteries can hold twice as much as traditional lead acid batteries.

Since the French have moved to nuclear propulsion and the Germans have moved to lithium-ion technology before AIP submarine technology, the Modi government will probably only be able to buy AIP submarines from South Korea. Simply put, this means that by the time the Indian bureaucracy decides on a vendor, the technology will be old and outclassed by the Chinese PLA Navy, which is getting better and better all the time.

With the PLA Navy quickly moving into the Indo-Pacific and the QUAD getting ready to meet the challenge, the Indian Navy is rethinking its submarine options. They may ask the Modi government to order six more Kalveri-class submarines with the AIP system tested by the French Naval Group and the DRDO.

The Indian Navy’s big plan for the next 25 years includes designing, developing, and building three nuclear-powered submarines with conventional weapons. These are called SSNs, which stands for “nuclear attack submarines.”

India has two nuclear-powered submarines that can fire ballistic missiles. A third one is being built.

The repeat order of Kalveri class submarines will make sure that India doesn’t lose its skills in building submarines and using machine tools after the last Kalveri class submarine is put into service this year and MDL exports the same submarines to other countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, like Indonesia.

The way out is to quietly put to rest Project 75 I and build on Project 75 with an AIP made by the DRDO. During a mid-life upgrade, the same AIP can be added to submarines of the Kalveri class. China puts out between six and ten warships and submarines every year, so India has no choice but to meet the Indo-Pacific challenge head on.

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