Will India Purchase German Stealth Submarines?
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Will India Purchase German Stealth Submarines?


Today, German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, began an official two-day visit to India with the aim of promoting stronger bilateral defense cooperation.

While in New Delhi, she held talks with top Indian officials, including her Indian counterpart. Von der Leyen offered Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar German submarine technology as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighter, manufactured by a consortium of European defense contractors, Der Spiegel reports.

“I wanted to send a clear signal that the [German] federal government will support this,” von der Leyen told Der Spiegel. The German defense minister also noted that “there is Indian interest in industry cooperation for the construction of submarines.”

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India accounts for almost 15 percent of global defense imports and German arms exporters are looking to profit from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” defense procurement initiative.

Der Spiegel also reports that Germany and India are already in discreet talks over the possible acquisition of six small German Thyssen Krupp Marine Systems (TKMS) diesel-electric submarines, equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems, for a total cost of $ 11 billion. The subs would be built by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in Kiel.

While the Der Spiegel article does not offer any details over the precise TKMS submarine type offered, some reports surfaced in March that Germany was going to offer the HDW Type 214, an export variant of the stealthy HDW Type 212. The Type 214 lacks some of the Type 212’s classified technologies such as its non-magnetic steel hull, which makes the sub particularly difficult to detect.

India currently operates four older HDW Type 209 submarines with the first commissioned back in 1986. Two of the four vessels, the INS Shalki and INS Shankul, were produced in India under a technology transfer agreement. “The very fact that INS Shalki and Shankul were made in India by an Indian Shipyard under a technology transfer agreement is proof that TKMS has been supporting India’s indigenous defense industry for over a quarter of a century,” according to Gurnad Sodhi, Managing Director of TKMS India.

The Indian government has been deliberating over the purchase of six additional stealth submarines, capable of attacking land targets and equipped with AIP, since 2008 and is expected to make a decision by the year’s end (in a previous deal, India already opted for the purchase of six French Scorpene-class diesel-electric attack submarines the first of which was floated out in April, 2015). According to the original Project 75-I proposal, two submarines would have been be directly bought from one selected foreign shipyard with the remaining four build in India. Now, with the Modi government’s ‘Make in India’ program all six vessels are to be built in India.

Germany’s competition in the bid will be fierce and will include DCNS (France), Navantia (Spain), Kockums (Sweden), Rubin Design Bureau-Amur Shipyard (Russia), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (Japan). TKMS has already exported variants of the HDW Type 214 to Greece, South Korea and Portugal.

Ursula von der Leyen also tried to reignite the Indian Defense minister’s interest in the Eurofighter Typhoon multirole fighter. New Delhi unexpectedly announced in April of this year that it would only purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighters in fly-away condition instead of the original 126 (although India’s defense minister recently did not rule out that India might buy more than 36 French fighter jets). In secret, Berlin had consistently lobbied against the purchase of the Rafale fighter and – among other things – pointed out to New Delhi that the Rafale would only be the cheaper solution if one excludes maintenance and future upgrade costs from the financial calculations. These lobbying efforts might perhaps be paying off now.

Back in 2011, then-German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg tried to sway the Indian government’s opinion in favor of the European fighter jet – to no avail. Today, Ursula von der Leyen was reluctant to elaborate on the Eurofighter discussions, only saying that her offer was “positively received” by her Indian counterpart and that her main purpose was to “deliver the expression of interest of the Eurofighter nations” in the completion of a possible weapon’s deal with India, Der Spiegel noted. Tomorrow, von der Leyen will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will have the final say in any potential Indo-German defense deals.

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