In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, the only thing permanent is the nation’s interest. And, India’s interest lies in its self-reliance in every round of things. Following this, for the indigenous construction of six modern conventional submarines under Project 75(I), India issued a Request of Proposal (RFP) in July 2021. The five foreign companies, Naval Group-France, TKMS-Germany, JSC ROE-Russia, Daewoo Shipbuilding, and Marine Engineering Co Ltd-South Korea, and Navantia-Spain were shortlisted for potential Strategic Partnerships (SPs). But out of the five OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer), one Naval Group France has decided to pull out of the project.
The Pull Out
Laurent Videau, Managing Director Naval Group India in a statement of pull out said, “The present RFP requires that the fuel cell AIP (Air Independent Propulsion Plant) be sea proven, which is not the case for us yet since the French Navy does not use such a propulsion system.”
The director further added that the Naval Group has always been ready to offer the best in class and adapted solutions for the Indian Navy’s P75(I) project, being fully in line with the Atmanirbhar Bharat principle and the Group will strengthen our existing commitments and look forwards to closer association with India, reported The Indian Express.
Air Independent Propulsion Plant
AIP is a marine propulsion technology that allows a non-nuclear submarine to operate without access to atmospheric oxygen. The conventional diesel-electric propulsion system uses atmospheric oxygen for fuel combustion which requires them to surface almost daily to get the air. The frequent coming out of water decreases the lethality and stealth capabilities of submarines.
But the fuel-based AIP system, an electric fuel cell releases energy by combining hydrogen & oxygen, with only water as the waste ensuring less marine pollution. Further, the chemical reaction of producing energy through fuel cells helps in avoiding mechanical movement which ultimately increases the stealth capabilities further reducing the noise of submarines.
The Real Reason
The real reason for the pull-out cited by Laurent Videau, the Managing Director of Naval Group India is that the country required in its RFP that the fuel cell AIP be sea proven and the French Navy does not use such a propulsion system.
But the sources cited by The Indian Express state that “some of the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) are not comfortable about sharing their expertise and niche technology with Indian partners”.
The RFP requires the foreign OEMs to enable the SP to set up dedicated manufacturing lines for these submarines in India by providing TOT (Transfer of Technology) for submarine design and other technologies and making India the global hub for submarine design and production.
The developing technologies are still in the niche phase and it seems the company does want to transfer the technology of AIP. It is pertinent to note that DRDO (Defense Research and Development Organization) is also expecting a good break in the development of technology and has already developed the AIP system by proving the land-based prototype. But the sea-proven fuel cell AIP technology is still in the trial phase and will take substantive time to onboard the submarines. For the time then, India was expecting a ToT from OEMs countries but Naval Group has decided to pull out of the project & is reluctant to share the technology.
The relationship between the two countries is still going sky high and the strategic partnerships in security cooperation are also growing. But without the transfer of technology, India cannot go ahead with any partnership, further compromising on aggressive indigenization, especially in the defense sector. So, India will be looking for the other left OEMs for the ToT.