No delay in Scorpene programme, India capable of making changes: Navy officers
As the Indian Navy investigates the leaked documents pertaining to its six Scorpene submarines, top officers say they do not expect the project to be delayed and that the first vessel, INS Kalvari, which is currently undergoing sea trials, will be inducted by the year-end.
While the Indian Navy has maintained the leaked data, which The Australian newspaper that broke the story says runs into 22,400 pages, will not compromise the boat’s stealth capabilities, an officer told IANS that, if needed, India is capable of making suitable changes in the submarines keeping in mind the “worst-case scenario”. Changes can be made “at any stage, if needed”, the officer said.
“We are expecting to induct INS Kalvari in the navy by year-end. The trials have been good. So far we do not see the leaks affecting the schedule,” he added. The other five submarines are expected to be inducted after a gap of nine months each after the first.
“We must not forget the submarines are being built by us, so we have all the capabilities for making some changes if required,” the officer said. The official however maintained they do not see any need for changes “right now”. He said that India will have the real critical information on the boat once the trials are over, and reiterated the Indian Navy’s official line that the information in the documents is generic.
“The final signature of the submarine is still to be established. Those documents, that come out after the trials, will have the actual critical information and will be only with the Indian Navy,” the officer said. The disclosures in the leaked documents relate to cylindrical and flank array, sonar interception, acoustic signature and levels of noise radiation, among other details.
However, asked about the Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), which was to give the submarines increased stealth, enabling them to stay under water for longer durations, the officer remained non-committal. “The technology is being developed by the DRDO; the process is going on,” he officer said.
The AIP system, being developed by the Maharashtra-based Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL), is a fuel cell that replaces diesel in conventional submarines. It converts methanol-like substances to produce hydrogen, which is the fuel that runs the cell to produce electricity.
While diesel engines need oxygen to function, these cells are air independent. The system also emits less noise, increasing its stealth — the most critical feature of a submarine. With this system, a conventional submarine that needs to surface every three to four days for replenishing its oxygen supply, can stay underwater for up to two weeks.
It was earlier expected to be fitted in at least last two of the six Scorpenes but officials later said it may miss the fifth one as well. The Scorpene submarines, which are being made by the Mazagaon Dock Limited (MDL), have been designed by the French firm DCNS, from where the documents are believed to have leaked.
The leak of documents came to light this week with a report in The Australian. The journalist who broke the story, Cameron Stewart, has said the documents were with a whistleblower for at least last two years in Australia. Before that, it was for an unknown period on an internet server in Singapore, exposed to threats like hacking. It is not known if anyone accessed the report at that time.
The documents have triggered fears that they may compromise the submarine’s stealth capabilities. Tracking a submarine involves sophisticated sonar equipment that can detect, classify, locate and track a vessel based on echoes from its hull and the noise it generates. Hull reflection, radio and radar signals and water pressure can also give away a submarine’s location.