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The Indian Navy is keenly aware of the pitfalls of neglecting its domestic submarine construction expertise. A critical period, often referred to as the “lost decade” (1995-2005), serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of letting capabilities atrophy.

During this period, Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL), India’s primary submarine builder, witnessed a significant decline in its capabilities. This stemmed from the unresolved corruption scandal surrounding the procurement of four German HDW Type 209/1500 submarines. The subsequent suspension of submarine construction activities led to the gradual erosion of crucial skills and infrastructure at MDL.

Fortunately, the Navy recognized the gravity of the situation and took corrective action in 2005. To revive domestic submarine construction, a technology transfer agreement was signed with France for the license-production of six Scorpène-class submarines at MDL. This strategic move not only addressed the immediate need for submarines but also helped rebuild India’s indigenous capabilities.

The Scorpène project has been a successful endeavor. Five submarines have already been inducted into the Indian Navy, significantly bolstering its underwater defense capabilities. The sixth and final submarine is expected to join the fleet by the end of 2024.

But Navy’s 30-year (2000–2030) submarine building plan drawn up in 1998 envisaged the development of two parallel lines of six conventional submarines, to be constructed in India over twelve years has been disarray included that 12 submarines would be built with Russian help and 12 with Western assistance. Indian Navy plans to procure Three more Scorpène-class submarines with improvements and higher local content and conclude a deal for the Project-75I that is still at RFP stage and might take another few years to conclude. Its necessary for the Navy to fast track its own Project-76 program to develop 12 conventional submarines.

The “lost decade” serves as a valuable lesson for the Indian Navy. The high cost of reviving MDL’s capabilities underscores the importance of continuous investment and development in this critical area. The Navy’s current focus on indigenous submarine construction, exemplified by the Scorpene project, Project-75I and Project-76 program do need rethink and fast track its approach along and revise its submarine requirements to above 24 units as four older HDW Type 209/1500 and 8 kilo Class of submarines are close to completing their technical life’s in next 7-8 years.