Japan to Join Indian Submarine Race?
Image Credit: Government of India

Japan to Join Indian Submarine Race?

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India has forwarded a proposal to Japan asking if it would be interested in a multi-billion dollar project to build six submarines in India, Indian media sources reported January 29.

Since 2007, India has been trying to add six new submarines with foreign collaboration under Project 75I in order to replace a fleet that has been depleted by aging and accidents. But the move has been repeatedly delayed due to bureaucratic wrangling.

The plan has now once again gained steam under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Last October, the Defense Acquisition Council approved the proposal to build the six diesel-electric submarines indigenously at a project cost of around $8.1 billion dollars. All six of them will be built in an Indian shipyard in the country under the “Make in India” initiative, and they will be equipped with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance.

Now, Indian media outlets are quoting sources as saying that New Delhi has asked Tokyo to “consider the possibility” of making its diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation, in India. The condition, of course, is that Japan will have to form a joint venture with an Indian shipyard.

The media reports suggest that the move is in line with closer security cooperation between India and Japan, as evidenced by Modi’s meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last year. The potential sale of Japan’s Soryus overseas is also not difficult to fathom, given both its reputation as well as the attention lavished on a potential sale to Australia, which we have recently covered here at The Diplomat.

Even if this is true, it is unclear at this point whether Japan would throw its hat in the ring. And even if Tokyo does, it would be only one of several candidates in the Indian submarine race, which includes the string of usual suspects in France, Germany, Russia and Spain. The Soryus are widely-regarded as one of the world’s most advanced diesel-electric submarines, and they have several notable traits including their size and long submersion times. But the decision may come down to a range of other factors, including compatibility and the fact that several of the other candidates already have experience building submarines for India.

It may be a while before we find out the outcome — The Times of India suggests it could take over two years just to select a tender winner. It may take another seven to eight years for the first submarine to roll out. As is often the case with Indian defense issues, the actual time frames may vary.

In the meantime, a committee is scheduled to submit a report to the defense ministry next month on the domestic shipyards capable of manufacturing submarines. Defense officials have suggested that the tender or request for proposal to shipyards will be issued this year.

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