NEW DELHI: India will finally induct its first new conventional submarine in 16 years, INS Kalvari , by this year-end. But it will be a metal shark without proper teeth. The government has now scrapped the long-pending Rs 1,200 crore proposal to buy heavy-weight torpedoes from a subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica to arm the six new Scorpene submarines.
Sources say defence minister Manohar Parrikar has directed officials to urgently look for “an alternative” to the “Black Shark” torpedoes manufactured by Finmeccanica subsidiary Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS).
The Navy was hopeful that a “special exception” would be made on the ground of “critical operational necessity” for the Black Shark torpedoes since they had emerged the winner over the Seahake torpedoes of the German Atlas Elektronik Gmbh in the selection process several years ago.
But amid the ongoing slugfest between the BJP and the Congress over the VVIP chopper scam, which revolves around Finmeccanica and its UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland, Parrikar has directed the “closure” of the procurement case for the Black Shark torpedoes. “The process will begin afresh, with a global tender being floated. Another option is to go in for a government-to-government deal to fast-track the acquisition,” said a source.
Heavy-weight torpedoes are the primary stealth weapons of diesel-electric submarines to take out enemy warships and submarines, even though they also have some anti-ship or land-attack missiles.
The Black Shark torpedoes were to arm the six French-origin Scorpene submarines being constructed at Mazagon Docks for Rs 23,652 crore. The entire project itself has been plagued by cost escalations and a delay of over four years, with the first Scorpene in the shape of INS Kalvari now likely to be commissioned by November-December. The other five will follow at nine-month intervals till 2020.
As was reported, INS Kalvari began its sea trials on May 1. After extensive dive, noise and other tests, it will be inducted into the Navy with only the tube-launched SM-39 Exocet anti-ship missiles. It will have to wait for its main weapon to maintain stealth till the government procures the requisite heavy-weight torpedoes. Under the existing “partial ban” imposed on Finmeccanica and all its subsidiaries since August 2014, no fresh deal can be inked with the Italian conglomerate but ongoing contracts are allowed to continue unhindered.
Under this graded ban, all acquisition cases where Finmeccanica companies were declared as the L-1 (lowest bidder) after competition — like in the case of the Black Shark torpedoes — were to be kept on hold till further orders. “From being on hold, the project has now been scrapped,” said a source.Acquisition of the Black Shark torpedoes, in fact, was earlier also on hold after Atlas Elektronik complained to the Central Vigilance Commission about “irregularities” in the selection process. But later, it was cleared by all, including a special technical oversight committee.
Interestingly, the UPA-II regime’s Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by AK Antony, had given the green signal to the Black Shark torpedo project just 10 days before it finally scrapped the Rs 3,546-crore contract for 12 VVIP helicopters with AgustaWestland on January 1, 2014.