Why Is Russia Offering Old Submarines to India

Mandeep Singh Sajwan
Why Is Russia Offering Old Submarines to India
A Kilo-Class Submarine

Admiral Karambir Singh, the chief of the Indian Navy, recently paid a low-key three-day visit to Russia. The trip was "primarily about submarines," according to one source, aside from attending the Russian Navy's 325th-anniversary celebration in St Petersburg on July 25. The CNS (Chief of Naval Staff) paid a visit to the Zvezdochka shipyard in northern Russia, where he checked on the progress of a Russian nuclear submarine refurbishment. In 2019, India and Russia agreed to build the Chakra-3, a $3 billion (Rs 22,000 crore) nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) based on the ex-Russian Navy's Akula class. The price includes a 72-month refit as well as a ten-year lease for the SSN.

Another new submarine, the Bratsk, will replace Chakra-2, which will be returned to the Russian Navy after the ten-year lease ends this year. The crew of this submarine was sent to Russia for training last year. In January 2021, the Russian news agency TASS reported that the Bratsk class will be delivered to India in the “first quarter of 2026”.

Interestingly, Zvezdochka shipyard formally offered to sell three conventional Kilo-class submarines to India at a symbolic price of one rupee only. In an introduction to Admiral Singh, the Russian side stated that it hoped that India would only pay about 250 million US dollars per vessel for conversion costs (18.5 billion rupees). The last time India chose this procurement model was when it acquired the former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov in 2004.

Why Is Russia Offering Old Submarines to India

The final overhaul cost exceeded US$2 billion. The Kilo-class submarine is the largest conventional submarine (SSK) of the Indian Navy. It purchased 10 ships from the Soviet Union and Russia between 1986 and 2000. 

It has now fallen to only 7 kg; one was lost in an accident in 2013, the second unit was transferred to the Myanmar Navy last year, and the third unit is ready. Remove it. The Russian proposal seems very attractive to the Indian Navy, whose submarine force is facing a crisis. 

Decades of indecision and lack of a clear home-grown construction plan have left the Navy severely lacking conventional and nuclear submarines. You expected 18 SSKs and 6 SSN requirements, but you only have 14 SSKs and no SSN. In this decade, it will only purchase three more SSKs and eliminate at least four older SSKs.

On July 20 this year, the Indian Ministry of Defence submitted a proposal (RFP) requesting the construction of six SSK under the 75I (P-75I) conventional submarine project in India. However, the RFP is only the beginning of a long process of assessing which of the two shortlisted shipyards Mazagon Docks Ltd or Larsen & Toubro can sign a contract. It takes six years to build a conventional submarine, and the pre-contract process may take that long. 

Even the most optimistic assessment did not see the first unit delivered at the end of the decade. Aware of the delay of the P-75I project, the Navy has decided in recent years to extend the life of its existing submarines. It has dispatched three Kilo-class submarines for the second overhaul (most submarines have only one service life), which will extend their service life by 15 years. 

Why Is Russia Offering Old Submarines to India

The fourth submarine is awaiting a modification decision. Three or more second-hand submarines can close the gap within this decade. The three Kilos provided are over 30 years old and will soon be retired from the Russian Navy, but additional repairs may extend your hull for another 10 years. (Russia has a 13 kg former Soviet fleet built between 1988 and 1990, so more hulls may be provided.) Because they are already in use, the Navy will not need to create new infrastructure, Review crew training or acquire new missiles and torpedoes. 

Perhaps this is why the Russian proposal is considered attractive. This is the fastest way to quickly increase the falling power level. However, the other side of the problem is the age of the ship. Each unit is more than 30 years old and has exceeded its 25-year technical life. Another overhaul extended its service life by 15 years. This could mean embezzling funds from the navy’s already meagre capital procurement budget. The longer other navies plan to deliver submarines, the more attractive the Russian offer.

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