Where are the questions from the media?
The Times of India ran an article on July 11, 2010 indicating that the Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister A.K. Antony approved the allocation of Rs. 50,000 crore ($11 billion) towards the construction of six “next generation” submarines for the Navy, via a project codenamed Project-75 India (P-75I):
[The DAC] has finally decided that three of the six submarines will be constructed at Mazagon Docks (MDL) in Mumbai and one at Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) in Visakhapatnam, with the help of a foreign collaborator. “The other two submarines will either be imported from the foreign vendor directly or constructed at a private shipyard in India. Fresh estimates show each of these six diesel-electric submarines will cost almost Rs 8,500 crore,” a source said. [The Times of India]
There are several issues relating to the new project that should be of concern, not the least of which should be the amount allocated, which appears excessive for six conventional submarines (maybe The Times of India can clarify what was so “new generation” about the subs). If a decision was taken to allocate such a large sum of money towards a project, it should have been directed towards augmenting the indigenous nuclear submarine program, with India’s mid- to long-term security interests in mind.
Further, if MoD’s past record in cost projection is any indicator, $11 billion will be a significant underestimation. Initial estimates of about $950 million for the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, escalated to almost $4 billion. Going back further, the SU-30MKI deal was initially estimated at about Rs. 22,000 crore, as against actual final costs of about Rs. 40,000 crore. Again, based on MoD’s past record, a six year time estimate for the roll-out of the first of these submarines (which seems excessive, in and of itself) is likely fairly optimistic. If MoD’s primarily concern is about plugging potential gaps before the Scorpene submarines become available (beginning 2014), a more effective sourcing strategy would be through a short-term lease agreement with another country.
The MoD’s lethargic approach towards requirements projection and sourcing, coupled with this Defence Minister’s obsession with self-reliance in manufacturing and “squeaky-clean” defense deals (let’s face it, they don’t exist) have already negatively impacted India’s defense preparedness. This is further compounded by the almost complete absence of probing questions from the press on such issues.
“Mother of all” defense deals are good attention grabbers, but requirements for several other basic, but un-sexy equipment — grenades, howitzers, assault riffles, helmets, bullet-proof jackets, night vision devices and others — have been documented, re-documented and distributed to their final resting place, where they gather dust in some old office in South Block.