With Pakistan set to acquire eight Chinese Yuan-class submarines between 2023 and 2028, the pressure is mounting on Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) to finalize a deal for the construction of three additional diesel-electric Kalvari-class submarines in collaboration with the French Naval Group this year. This move is aimed at preventing its submarine-building capacity, currently at 11, from becoming idle by the end of the year.
MDL is in the final stages of completing the last of the six Kalvari-class submarines, INS Vagsheer, before embarking on sea trials. Simultaneously, negotiations have commenced with the Naval Group for the additional three submarines, which will feature operation-specific enhancements, indigenous torpedoes, and air-independent propulsion (AIP) for extended endurance. The heavyweight indigenous torpedoes and AIP are currently undergoing operational validation testing in France.
Currently, Pakistan possesses one older French Agosta 70 submarine (PNS Hurmat) and another older and upgraded Agosta 90 B (PNS Hamza) with operational French single-use MESMA AIP. Additionally, Pakistan is set to receive four Yuan-class diesel-electric submarines this year, signifying a significant shift in Pakistan’s submarine fleet capabilities, as the 039 B submarine is equipped with AIP and potentially submarine-launched cruise missiles.
For the three additional submarines, MDL is engaging in discussions with the Naval Group to ensure that these new platforms will feature more advanced capabilities than the Kalvari-class submarines. These submarines, the acceptance of which was granted by the Modi government in July, may be seven meters longer than the Kalvari-class if the Navy desires a pure diesel-electric submarine, with additional batteries for extended submerged operations. Alternatively, they may be 10 meters longer to accommodate the AIP unit developed by DRDO. These new submarines will incorporate advanced optronics, electronic warfare systems, heavy-weight torpedoes with a range of 40 kilometers and higher explosive content. They will also feature advanced/upgraded SM-39 Exocet missiles, with future iterations potentially equipped with SCALP 1000 km range submarine-launched cruise missiles.
Moreover, with the Naval Group signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with MDL in July to build submarines in Mumbai dockyards for export to other countries, there is considerable excitement within the yard. Through this joint venture, India will export Scorpene-class submarines to Indonesia, Malaysia, and other nations. Naval Group has also signed an MoU with the Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) to jointly build surface combatants, including destroyers and frigates, for export to third countries. This will help ensure that the machine tooling capacity of the two dockyards remains active due to work orders.
As India’s submarine fleet strength declines with the aging Shishumar (HDW) and Sindughosh (Kilo) class submarines facing spare parts issues due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Indian Navy requires additional submarine assets to protect its 7500 km coastline and serve as a deterrent to Pakistan and China. The Kalvari-class submarines have been actively patrolling Pakistan’s Makran coast and were operationally deployed outside Karachi and Gwadar harbor during Operation Balakot in 2019.
While the US Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas has indicated the expectation of a military emergency in Taiwan in 2027, the Indian Navy is keenly aware that Chinese patrols or carrier-based strike forces with conventionally armed nuclear-powered submarines will begin patrolling the Indian Ocean by 2025-2026. Experts emphasize that the promotion of India’s indigenous submarine-building capacity is essential, as it forms a crucial part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) plan in defense and security.