- Feb 17, 2015
In a bizarre instance depicting the ways in which defence forces are made to operate, the Indian Navy has been left with no option but to fit old weaponry on a brand new platform.
The Indian Navy (IN), after much delay, is inching towards inducting its first diesel-electric submarine in nearly two decades.
However, the stand of the Ministry of Defence to not purchase 98 'Blackshark' Heavy Weight Torpedo (HWT), which was the agreed-upon choice earlier, has been a nasty blow to the navy.
This will lead to a scenario where a brand new submarine will join the fleet (likely by the end of the year) without its deadliest, primary weapon - the torpedo.
This, senior sources have confirmed, has left the IN with no option but to arm its upcoming French-designed Scorpene submarine with old German SUT torpedos. These torpedos are in use on the older German-designed HDW submarines called 'Shishumar' class of submarines.
KALVARI TRIALS TO BEGIN IN SEPTEMBER
The first Scorpene submarine, named Kalvari, is presently with the Mumbai-based Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited.
The sea trials for Kalvari will recommence from the first week of September, post monsoon. In these trials, Kalvari will seek to prove aspects like diving, speeds and manoeuvring among others.
"Since Kalvari is the first in six boats, there are hiccups which we are encountering. Hopefully by the end of the year, we would have achieved all parameters and then we will have the weapons firing using the upgraded SUT. It is not so much a hardware issue but a marriage of software, which is doable, we have ascertained that," said a top source.
What appears easy, however, is likely to complicate matters further for the IN's already-ailing underwater arm.
SOMETHING BETTER THAN NOTHING?
"We had about 60 odd SUT torpedos which were undergoing upgradation for the four, older Shishumar submarines. Now, the Scorpene submarine too will use this torpedo, which means further strain. But it is better than not having anything," said a source.
According to insiders, the SUT, even post upgrade, is no match to the benchmark the navy had sought when it got the Blackshark HWT.
"SUT is the technology of the 80s and thus has limitations. When we selected Blackshark, we were looking at ranges in excess of 50km to destroy a target. It has better tracking and homing features making it a next generation weapon," explained a senior officer.
However, there are those in the navy too who believe the SUT was ahead of its time when inducted and still remains a very good weapon.
Vice Admiral KN Sushil, a submariner, who retired as the head of Southern Naval Command said, "There is no problem in marrying an older torpedo to a new platform. However, we need to ask if that is what we'd set out to achieve."
MAKE BLACKSHARK AT HOME?
He said, "The Blackshark was a generation ahead of SUT in so many ways. It is time to make full use of the Make In India campaign and become a self reliant country. Our previous efforts at learning and producing torpedos doomed in the mid 90s.
Now we have torpedo made by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) which can only be fired from a ship, not a submarine."
'Blackshark' is manufactured by a firm under the Italian group Leonardo Finmeccanica, which has been linked by the MoD to charges of corruption in the VVIP helicopter case.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had reportedly stated that he would annul the deal and that the MoD had alternatives. Top sources confirm that for now, the SUT is that alternative till a fresh procurement, which could take years, materialises.
Requests for clarification made to the IN and MoD did not elicit a response.
KNOW YOUR KALVARI
1. Length: 67 metre
2. Width: 6.2 metre
3. Displacement: 1550 tonnes
4. Crew: 72
5. Weapons: Torpedos, tube-launched anti ship missiles (fired either underwater or from surface)
6. Cost: $ 3.5 billion (Project 75)
7. Kalvari was to have joined the navy in 2012