DCNS India Managing Director Bernard Buisson said the French shipbuilder is now looking at the next order from the Indian Navy to build at least three more submarines in India. In an interview with BusinessLine, he said the company is on track to deliver the remaining five Scorpene submarines even as the first one —INS Kalvari — is ready to be inducted into the Navy’s submarine fleet next month. Excerpts:
The first Scorpene-class submarine, INS Kalvari, is finally going to be inducted in Navy’s fleet next month. What has been your experience?
Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) built the submarines with DCNS as a technology partner. The program has been a major success given the extreme complexities and technical challenges of building a submarine.
The inevitable teething problems and other difficulties which MDL had to face, as there was a gap of several years since it had first produced submarines, were tackled successfully. Further, challenges of sourcing and inducting complex material were also achieved efficiently.
When will INS Khanderi, the second submarine, be delivered?
The sea trials have started last week. But now the tests will slow down because of the monsoon. But our target is to have this delivered by the year-end.
But, these submarines are defenceless as the contract to procure the Black Shark torpedoes was cancelled and Navy is now looking at German SeaHake …
We have successfully test fired a torpedo from the Navy’s current inventory. If the Navy has a requirement for additional torpedoes, DCNS will be offering the new generation French F21 torpedo. But DCNS is also fully prepared to help in integrating any other heavy weight torpedo if the Navy so chooses.
When do you plan to deliver the remaining four submarines?
Those will come at an interval of eight to nine months. The third one will be launched very soon. The remaining ones are all under different stages of construction.
What about the maintenance of these submarines?
We are in discussion with the Navy for maintenance through technical assistance and provision of additional tools and infrastructure specific to this modern submarine.
So what next now on the P75 programme?
We are now looking forward to the next order after P75 from the Navy for three or more submarines. Those will be the upgraded version of Scorpene submarine, which is more evolved and has enhanced features.
DNCS faced a massive data leak last year that almost jeopardised the Scorpene programme. How will you ensure this will not happen again?
The information that got leaked is not sensitive.
The final performance data of the Kalvari, which is the actual data, is securely maintained by the Navy. Even we do not possess it. The leak is now being looked at the highest levels of both governments of India and France. In addition, we are now re-enforcing our existing cyber security measures to put in place best in class data and more advanced security at base and on naval platforms.
P75(I) is going to the first project under the Strategic Partnership policy …
The government wants two lines of submarines. The second line is expected to be with a private shipyard.
Now under the SP, we have understood that within the submarine segment two partners will be selected, L&T and Reliance, because today only these two companies can build submarines. Then the potential OEMs will be selected, which can be the French, German or Russian. Then after final selection, it will be up to the SP to select and tie-up with the OEMs.
But if Reliance is selected then it will obviously select DCNS as you are already collaborating on the LPD (Landing Platform Docks) project …
We are working for four years with Reliance for the LPD project due to which we have known their shipyard and their capability. So it seems natural that when the RFP for P75(I) will be issued, they will consult us. But we will be the Navy’s and MoD’s guide, as they are our customers.
The LPD programme has again been revived by the government after it faced initial hiccups. How are you viewing the opportunity?
Well, DCNS along with Reliance is going to submit its bid on June 22. We are offering the Mistral solution. We hope to win the programme and emerge as the L1.
What happened to your FDI proposal to bring the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology for submarines to India?
The proposal has been deferred by the government. We have tried to explain it to MoD and Navy that we wanted to have a subsidiary to have at least 51 per cent in order to have control over it as far as intellectual property is concerned.
The government told us we are bringing a technology which is already with the DRDO. The idea is not to compete with the DRDO at all but to bring the knowledge here.