France transferring submarine technology to India

According to Patrick Boissier, chairman and CEO of DCNS, which is executing India's biggest submarine building programme for six diesel-electric Scorpene submarines, said that India's Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL) had already "absorbed the demanding technologies associated with hull fabrication" and that hulls for the first two submarines had been completed.

The delivery of the advanced combat systems for the first submarine would also be complete soon, and it should be launched by 2014. Boissier, who was in New Delhi as part of French Pressident Nicolas Sarkozy's delegation, was quoted by India Strategic defence magazine ( as saying that the "construction of hulls for the third and fourth submarines was in progress while the frame to receive the hull of the fifth submarine is under manufacture."

Boissier observed that Asia would see a staggering growth in the number of submarines in the next 10 years, and various countries in the region could acquire some 100 submarines. There were naval defence opportunities both in South-east Asia and the Arab Gulf region.

DCNS was particularly keen to cooperate with Indian companies, both public and private sector, towards building indigenous capabilities, and also to invest in the defence sector in India for building ships and submarines.

He said that DCNS was looking up to collaborating with India on the next line of six more submarines, as also to supply components for nuclear power plants. France has proposed that its Areva should build several 1650 MW units. Areva has developed technology for the biggest and the most advanced nuclear power plants in the world. DCNS, Boissier said, could supply some high technology sub-components for these nuclear plants.

Notably, the Scorpene project has been delayed but Boissier said that at present, DCNS was "conducting genuine transfers of technologies and of know-how at an unprecedented level."

"We are providing our Indian partners with technical assistance to manufacture equipments through indigenisation programmes." It may be recalled that India had bought four HDW submarines from Germany in the 1980s, but due to controversies and allegations, whatever transfer of technology was done was lost, and all those who trained on the contemporary systems of the 1980s, have retired or left MDL.

According to MDL chairman and managing director Vice Admiral H S Mahi, MDL could now make submarine pressure hulls without any foreign collaboration and that the process for the prduction of Scorpenes was now smooth and satisfactory.

Boissier visited MDL and met with Mahi to review the progress of the Scorpene construction. MDL is sourcing some important critical sub-systems from other companies also. Nonetheless, DCNS has offered to modify the Scorpene design and supply Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems for the last of the two submarines.

The Indian Navy is terribly short of submarine capability, loaded as it has been with the old Soviet vintage Foxtrot and Kilo class, and four German HDWs. A tender for six more P 75-I more advanced submarines, with AIP capability for longer underwater stay, is likely to be floated in 2011 for simultaneous construction at two or three shipyards to make up for the delay in acquisition.

The underlying theme though is Transfer of Technology and building indigenous capabilities. The value of this project could be twice that of the current Scorpene project, and match or exceed the estimated $ 10 billion-plus cost of 126 Medium Multi Role Aircraft (M-MRCAs) being acquired by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Boissier said that it should be logical for DCNS to bag this project, as an extension of the ToT that it would have transferred to the Indian shipyard.

"We understand that India wants to build indigenous capabilities, and we are ready to transfer the best of the technologies." As for the AIP, the tender for the Scorpenes did not have this requirement, but DCNS had now offered to fit this system on the last of the two submarines under the ongoing project. "We have made an informal proposal to the Navy for AIP technology in the last two of the Scorpenes that will be built at MDL. Now it is up to the navy to take a call on this proposal. We have held informal discussions in this regard."

AIP allows a submarine to operate without the need to surface or use a snorkel to access atmospheric oxygen and it usually excludes the use of nuclear power, but is about augmenting or replacing diesel-electric propulsion system of non-nuclear vessels. US, Russia, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden are some of the countries which have the AIP technology on their submarines.

Boissier told India Strategic: Through local partnership arrangements, such as the one we have with MDL, we can offer the Indian Navy the ability to build vessels in India, based on proven designs and incorporating the full range of DCNS technologies. Local partnerships will also facilitate in-service maintenance and through-life support. These are win-win partnerships for greater heights, where all parties enhance their capabilities."

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