France Offers 2 Quick Scorpenes, DCNS 'Worried' About DRDO's AIP

PARIS, NOV 28: French shipyard DCNS, creators of the Scorpène-class submarine, have offered the Indian Navy two Scorpène submarines off the shelf as a quick stop-gap to stem dwindling force levels, compounded by the recent INS Sindhurakshak tragedy. The company, cleared by the French government to make the offer, has said it can build two Scorpenes and deliver them to coincide with the induction of the first of six Scorpènes being license built at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai.

I had a chance to speak with executives at DCNS who confirmed that the Scorpène build programme was 'on track' after major hiccups for most of the last few years. A review meeting scheduled for next week will take stock of progress, a monthly affair that involves persons from the French DGA, DCNS and French industry.

DCNS, currently committed through an MoU with DRDO to help facilitate the integration of the latter's in-development air independent propulsion system has expressed anxiety about the absence of an official 'Plan B' in case the DRDO project doesn't deliver a workable AIP module for the final two submarines in the license build. DCNS, which has for long tried to convince the Indian Navy to commit to the French MESMA (Module d’Energie Sous-Marine Autonome) AIP system, it now plans to formally suggest to the Indian Navy that they 'formalise' this Plan-B on paper. The MESMA being proposed, sources at DCNS tell me, will be a second generation system where the steam generator involved will be replaced with fuel cell technology.

Officials at DCNS have also suggested that the DRDO system, being developed by the Naval Materials Research Laboratory in Mumbai, is unlikely to meet timelines given that it will need to be ready (developed fully and then tested in dock, at sea and at depth after integration with the submarine) before 2015 -- a "difficult proposition", according to one official. DRDO officials contest this, and insist that the programme is on track and will meet timelines. DCNS plans to recommend to the Indian Navy that the Plan-B be invoked if the DRDO doesn't meet a specified timeline (beyond which, delays would impact the submarine build itself) on the indigenous AIP. It also plans to suggest that the DRDO AIP then be retrofitted on the first four submarines, if the Indian Navy wants that.

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