Scorpene Stumbles Towards The Finish Line

India's effort to build French Scorpene submarines, under license, hasbeen further delayed, and the price has now gone up to $5 billion ($834million each). While this effort will leave India with thousands ofworkers and specialists experienced in building modern submarines, thatwill be wasted because the defense procurement bureaucrats seem to havelearned nothing.
These officials already caused numerous delays, andcost overruns, during negotiations to build the six Scorpenediesel-electric submarines. The bureaucrats have mismanaged this dealto the extent that it is nearly three years behind schedule. But it iseven more behind schedule if you count the several years the Indianbureaucrats delayed it even getting started.
The delays andmismanagement have so far increased the cost of the $4 billion projectby 25 percent. The first Scorpene is supposed to enter service in twoyears, with one a year after that until all six are delivered.

There's some urgency to all this, because by 2012, five of India's 16subs (10 Kilo and two Foxtrot class Russian built boats and , fourGerman Type 209s) will be retired (some are already semi-retiredbecause of age and infirmity). Two years after that, India will onlyhave five working subs.

But the bureaucrats and politicians dithered for nearly a decade, andit wasn't until 2005 that India signed a deal to buy six FrenchScorpene class boat. The delays led to the French increasing prices onsome key components, and India has had some problems in gettingproduction going on their end. The first Scorpene was to be built inFrance, with the other five built in India. While some problems wereexpected (India has been doing license manufacturing of complex weaponsfor decades), the defense ministry procurement bureaucrats never ceasedto amaze when it came to delaying work, or just getting in the way.

The Scorpenes are similar to the Agosta 90B subs (also French) thatPakistan recently bought. The first of the Agosta's was built inFrance, but the other two were built in Pakistan. The Scorpene purchasewas seen as a response to the Pakistani Agostas. The Scorpene are amore recent design, the result of cooperation between a French and aSpanish firm. The Agosta is a 1,500 ton (surface displacement)diesel-electric sub with a 36 man crew and four 21 inch torpedo tubes(with 20 torpedoes and/or anti-ship missiles carried.) The Scorpene isa little heavier (1700 tons), has a smaller crew (32) and is a littlefaster. It has six 21 inch torpedo tubes, and carries 18 torpedoesand/or missiles. Both models can be equipped with an AIP (airindependent propulsion) system. This enables the sub to stay underlonger, thus making the sub harder to find. AIP allows the sub totravel under water for more than a week, at low speed (5-10 kilometersan hour). The Pakistanis have an option to retrofit AIP in theircurrent two Agostas.

Both of these modern subs are very lethal weapons against surfacewarships. With well trained crews, Agostas and Scorpenes can get closeto just about any surface ship, no matter how good the defendersanti-submarine defenses are. But it's the AIP boats that are the realkillers. Without AIP, subs spend most of their time just below surface,using their noisy diesel engines (via a snorkel device that breaks thesurface to take in air, and get rid of the engine exhaust.) Snorkelscan be spotted by modern maritime patrol aircraft, and both nations aregetting more of these. The noise of the diesel engines can easily bepicked up by other subs. The introduction of the Agostas and Scorpeneswas seen as an escalation in the naval arms race between Pakistan andIndia.

While India was largely concerned with the Pakistani navy when theScorpene contract was negotiated and signed, China is now seen as theprimary adversary. The Chinese subs are not as effective as thePakistani boats, both because of less advanced technology, and lesswell trained crews. India could use their Scorpenes to confront anyChinese attempt to expand their naval presence into the Indian ocean.Thus the delays and cost overruns with the Scorpenes are causing quitea lot of commotion in India. But at the rate India is going, it will benearly a decade before all six of the Scorpenes are in service. At thatpoint, India would have about a dozen subs (including nuclear poweredmodels under construction. China will have over 60 boats, about 20percent of them nuclear.
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