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Will India Help Build Australia’s New Submarines?

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Will India Help Build Australia’s New Submarines?

New Delhi’s experience with French submarines could come in handy for Australia’s shipbuilding industry.

Will India Help Build Australia’s New Submarines?
Credit: DCNS

Indian defense firms could benefit from a recent $38.8 billion Australian-French submarine deal by becoming subcontractors for Australia’s so-called SEA 1000 Future Submarine Program, an Australian official told The Economic Times on July 20.

“India and Australia as decided during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia in 2014 have ventured into the areas of defense collaboration and joint research. While India’s DRDO chief visited Australia our top defense scientist visited this county to explore joint defense ventures. As part of this collaboration Indian firms may obtain sub-contracts in Australia’s submarine project with France,” Australia’s High Commissioner to India, Harinder Sidhu, suggested.

India’s defense sector has extensive experience in dealing with French defense contractors and Indo-French joint ventures.

For example, India’s state-run Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) in Mumbai has been working with the French shipbuilder Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS) for the past decade on building six Scorpene-class (Kalvari-class) diesel electric submarines for the India Navy under a $4.16 billion contract (known as Project 75-I).

As I explained in October, 2015 (See: “India’s First New Stealth Submarine Begins Sea Trials”):

The deal involved extensive technology transfer agreements. Only thirty percent of the submarine has been made in India. For example, the Kalvari’s pressure hull has been manufactured by MDL.

The Sorpene-class submarine program has faced repeated delays over the last couple of years (See: “India’s Submarine Fleet Faces Further Delays”). The latest delay in February [2015] was due to difficulties in procuring certain technologies from foreign suppliers.

All six submarines will be assembled in Mumbai. The first Kalvari-class sub is expected to be inducted in September 2016. However, the date may have to be pushed back given that the Indian Navy still has not procured heavyweight torpedoes for the boat due to a graft scandal involving an Italian arms supplier.

In April, Australia announced that DCNS will be awarded a contract to build 12 Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A  subs, a diesel-electric derivative of DCNS’ Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine, for the Royal Australian Navy.

Details of the contract are still being negotiated. Nevertheless, DCNS allegedly agreed that all major work on the submarines will be done in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia and home base of the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) using domestic materials (save some specialized parts).

Sidhu did not specify where Indian expertise could potentially be of use in the program. Should an Indian defense firm succeed in obtaining a subcontract for the SEA 1000 Future Submarine Program, it would be a first for India’s burgeoning defense industry.