July 31, 2015

Netherlands Undecided How Fast it Needs New Submarines

One of the Netherlands four large conventional Walrus class submarines that need to be replaced.

The main islands (Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire) of the Dutch Caribbean are an ocean away from the Netherlands, but uncomfortably close to Venezuela. The constant long range blue-water responsibilities of the Netherlands' submarines mean they need to be larger than usual Western European conventional subs.

The Netherlands is running a replacement process for its four large Walrus class submarines with the aim to have the first new submarine operating by 2024-25. The Netherlands again wants large subs due to its commitments to the islands of the Dutch Caribbean and other long range tasks. It has quiet intelligence gathering commitments in the Indian Ocean area which includes (at a better known level) anti-piracy. 

At Comments in http://gentleseas.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/sweden-and-netherlands-replacement.html Kevin provided some interesting insights into the Netherlands’ needs. The Dutch have with the Walrus class a unique position within NATO. The Walrus is the only sub in NATO capable of both littoral operations and long range ocean patrols. The Walrus replacement must be in the 2500 to 4000 ton range, depending on the company designing the sub.

The Dutch rekenkamer (general Audit committee) have released a devastating June 2015 report on the state of the Dutch subs (and the military in general). Most of the equipment of the Walrus is not supported anymore and spares cannot be bought from the suppliers, putting into doubt operation of the Walrus out to 2024.

In the Walrus replacement process the Netherlands has been talking to Sweden, Norway and Germany. 

It is well established that SAAB-Kockums seeks to design and perhaps build the four relacements. SAAB in January 2015 announced an "exclusive teaming agreement" with Dutch shipbuilder Damen. That is the reason why Damen shipyards is talking to SAAB/Kockums. Damen only has experience in maintaining subs not building them. The Netherlands would need to build any large Swedish designed sub not SAAB-Kockums. SAAB/Kockums need to reconstruct Sweden’s submarine building industry but the Dutch cannot wait for such rebuilding if the Walrus replacements are to be ready from 2024-25. The SAAB - Damen corporate alliance does not prevent the Dutch government from selecting another design such as the Type 216 [or Shortfin Barracuda?].

Another plan is (or was) to build the new subs domestically in partnership with Norway. Yes Norway !  see “While the [Dutch] MoD is currently exploring a variety of options it sees Norway as a potential partner for co-developing and building submarines.” This is even though Norway would probably be seeking a much smaller sub. An immediate problem of a Dutch-Norwgian alliance is that the company that built the Walrus class no longer exists and Norway has never built subs. 
Another alternative is buying the German Type 216 design and building 216s in Dutch Damen shipyards. Kevin believes “The Type 216 can be operational in 2020”. Kevin indicated “It will be more logical if a German design will be selected. The German subs will at the end of 2015 be under Dutch Command [presumable this is under NATOs ComSubNATO arrangements?]. It will be more cost effective if the logistics of the 2 countries are the same.” 

EU guidelines prevent the Dutch government from buying military equipment outside the EU, (the exception are items that cannot be bought in the EU like fifth generation fighters). So buying Japanese subs to replace the Walrus subs is not an option for the Netherlands.

Since becoming operational in 1992 Walrus subs have had long range responsibilities to support Dutch and broader NATO objectives in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is known for the past few years that Walrus subs operate near the Somalian coast for NATO anti-piracy duties and in the Caribbean for the gathering intelligence on drug smuggling. According to wikipedia following the Cold War, the subs have been tasked for many highly confidential intelligence gathering operations in the Yugoslavian region, Iran and Iraq on request of NATO Allies, including the US.

A more specific objective for Walrus subs has been deterring Venezuela's claim to Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire islands of the Dutch Caribbean. Former president Hugo Chávez of Venezuela threatened in the early 2000s to invade these islands - a threat countered by Dutch and US warships. For the last decade a Dutch warship is always present in the Caribbean and a Dutch forces equivalent to a battalion are stationed on the islands of Aruba and Curacao as a deterrent. 

The decision on the Walrus replacement may occur in September 2015. 

Please connect with Submarine Matters:
-  Sweden and the Netherlands Replacement Submarine Needs, February 19, 2015


July 30, 2015

Where is Reunion island? Right here. Maybe part of MH370 found.

Image courtesy CBC. Canada's CBC reports, July 29-30, 2015. A 2 meter piece of wreckage was found on Wednesday-Thursday, July 29-30, washed up in the town of Saint-André on the northeast coast of the French island of Reunion. It may be part of a wing of a Boeing 777 jet, the same kind of plane as MH370, but this is not confirmed. Réunion (French: La Réunion) is a French island with a population of 845,000 inhabitants located in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. 

Reunion island - capital is Saint-Denis in center of map.

Water's edge by town of Saint-Andre (above) northeast Reunion island. (Map courtesy Agence France Press (AFP))

Police (gendarmes) carrying two meter piece of an aircraft - possibly from MH370. (Photo courtesy UK Telegraph)

Please connect this with earlier Submarine Matters articles on the MH370 search:


Mystery of the Catfish, Som class submarine, wrecked in Swedish waters

The recently "discovered?" wreck may have been the Catfish (ex Fulton) - a Som class submarine. The Som class (above) were designed by US company Electric Boat. Catfish was perhaps built in Vladivostok in 1904 or built in the US then delivered to Vladivostok. Catfish was presumably transported by train (in sections). After some Black Sea Fleet service it was entrained to St Petersburg, where it joined the Baltic Fleet (1915). It sank in a collision on 10 May 1916. As the collision date is known the wreck’s location may have been known for 99 years.

Sweden's The Local, July 29, 2015 has produced a fabulous article which reports doubts whether the alleged submarine is old or modern and whether the dive company "discovered" a sub wreck already known to be there. See http://www.thelocal.se/20150729/questions-raised-about-swedish-submarine-find

Salvagers deny Swedish sub wreck was PR stunt
Ocean X Team members Peter Lindberg and Dennis Åsberg. Photo: Ocean X Team

Salvagers deny Swedish sub wreck was PR stunt.

Speculation was running high on Wednesday over the discovery of a wrecked submarine off the coast of Sweden, after the military said it was likely a Russian vessel which ran aground a century ago.
After examining video footage by a group of salvage hunters purporting to show a wrecked underwater vessel in Swedish waters, the military concluded it was likely that of an Imperial Russian 'Som class' submarine which sank in May 1916.
As reported by The Local, the submarine was found about 1.5 nautical miles (2.8 kilometres) off the east coast of central Sweden. Ocean X Team, which made the discovery, said the vessel was around 20 metres (66ft) long and 3.5 metres wide.
An examination by the Swedish Armed Forces showed that it was built for the Imperial Russian Navy in Vladivostok in 1904 and integrated into the naval fleet in the Baltic Sea in 1915. It ran aground with an 18-member crew a year later.
"We won't take this forward with a technical analysis, because there is no military interest any more. We have done our bit and have reported it to the government. They will take it further and then they have to agree with Russia about what to do," spokesman Jesper Tengroth told The Local on Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed late on Tuesday that they had contacted the Russian embassy in Stockholm for informational purposes but declined to elaborate further.
“We never comment on what emerges in talks with representatives from other countries,” press spokesman Johan Tegel told the TT newswire.
The Russian embassy also refused to comment.
The alleged wreck of the Catfish looking very modern. Significantly this picture of the "wreck" is not covered by the usual barnacles or seaweed. There appears to be minimal rust or corrosion, after 99 years underwater.
However, earlier in the day, after some experts claimed the submarine “looked modern”, the find caused quite the stir in Sweden, which has a long and rather colourful history of hunting for mystery underwater vessels.
In October last year, Sweden's navy launched a massive hunt for a foreign submarine, suspected to be Russian, in the Stockholm archipelago. The military subsequently confirmed that “a mini-submarine” had violated its territorial waters, but was never able to establish the vessel's nationality.
Questions about the process of the latest Som class submarine discovery are now being raised in Sweden, with some suggesting that it was known from the start that the wreckage was the century-old Imperial Russian vessel.
Social media speculation saw Ocean X Team, which is set to launch a TV project later this year, being forced to respond to claims that the expedition was only a PR trick.
“No, I don't know anything about that. It may either help or hinder us. For us there is no money in the submarine. Personally, I would actually have preferred that it had not been made public so soon, but it happened,” Ocean X Team member Stefan Hogeborn told the TT newswire.
According to the team the only information known to them at the time of finding the sub was that they had been tasked with the mission by an Icelandic company with Russian connections to locate an unidentified submarine.
“When we analysed the video footage we thought that there were quite a few things that made it look like a relatively modern submarine, so we contacted the marine on Monday. When they saw the material they were also surprised, they thought it looked well-preserved,” Ocean X Team diver Dennis Åsberg told TT.
He said the divers did not get paid for the expedition, but that the Icelandic company funded all costs. The Ocean X Team company usually makes its money from finding expensive goods in old wrecks, such as champagne and port, and selling it."

July 29, 2015

Submarine Launched Airflight Missile (SLAMs)

There are many emerging technologies that could be placed in or on a submarine. One technology is Submarine Launched Airflight Missile (SLAMs) or Submarine SAMs. These may normally be intended for SSK use but they may also be on Russian SSNs.

Unlike torpedos SLAMs have generally not been seen as essential equipment. Projects to develop SLAMs have risen and fallen for at least 45 years. In 1972 the UK tested a Blowpipe SLAM system on HMS Aeneas (P427) in 1972. This consisted of a cluster of four missiles on a mast that  could be raised from a submarine's sail/fin. This system was then installed on an Israeli Gal class (modified UK built HDW 206) submarine.

Reasons why SLAMs have not been adopted may include difficult and slow operation making for low effectiveness and need for the submarine to expose itself to the attacking helicopters or maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs). However advances in SLAM technology may be making them a more worthwhile inclusion in a submarine.

Factors that may encourage submarine captain to use a SLAM include:

-  whether it is a wartime emergency situation where the submarine has been detected, or detection is imminent, by a helicopter/MPA? Detection might be by helicopter dipping-active sonar or fixed wing maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) dropped sonobouy.

-  whether the SLAM can be deployed in such a way that minimises submarine exposure? 

-  could increasing long range, or stealthier, SLAMs be arguments for greater use?

-  by what mode is the missile deployed?
   :  from a mast or the sail (likely to lead to detection of sub)
   :  float-up container or
   :  by missile carried by torpedo (may be quickest method and less likely to lead to sub's detection)

-  how quick is that mode? (the quicker the better to defeat the helicopter/MPA's actions or countermeasures).

-  does the SLAM armed submarine (eg. a Kilo)  have a major anti-aircraft role in support of other higher value submarines (eg. SSBNs)? 

-  does the missile carry added benefits/fuctions like anti-missile, anti-shipping or light land attack capabilities?

France and Germany have been marketing SLAM solutions. Russia is thought to have developed Strela-3 and Igla SLAMs and no doubt US companies have developed SLAM ideas at times.  It is difficult to gauge how mature the technologies are.

DCNS has been marketing a mast launched Mistral SLAM concept known as A3SM (above). The Mast version comprises a missile housing (that remains watertight throughout the submarine’s operating range and diving depth) mounted on a hoistable mast and containing several short-range Mistral missiles that can be fired from periscope depth. 

A mast mounted MICA missile has also been tested but slower reaction-vulnerability shortcomings of the mast mounted concept were apparent.

DCNS is also marketing a underwater vehicle version above. It comprises a torpedo like capsule containing just one medium-range (20 km) Mica missile that is torpedo tube launchable at any depth. The capsule is similar to the type developed for submarine launched Exocet anti-ship missiles.
A test rig (above) for an IDAS system launch canister intented to be mounted in a torpedo tube. The system may carry 4 to 8 missiles per torpedo tube. (Courtesy defense govr fr). See possible targets of IDAS below.

Germany's TKMS has been developing the Interactive Defence and Attack System for Submarines (IDAS) SLAM system for Type 212 subs. It is described as 4 missiles housed in a launch canister in the torpedo tube using a IR seeker, fiber-optic data link between the control console and a single-stage, rocket motor providing a range of 20km. The operator on board the submarine may alter the course of the mission at any time. In addition, reconnaissance results and target images obtained by means of the seeker can be evaluated in the submarine. 

It remains a point of contention whether IDAS has been actually fitted to Germany's latest Type 212 submarines. There is no mention of IDAS on latest commissioned  https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_35_(Bundeswehr) or on not yet commissioned  https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_36_(Bundeswehr) .

My view is that IDAS is still not operational on 212s. An IDAS missile was tested in the Baltic on Type 212A U33 in May 2008 and did hit a simulated air target. The IDAS consortium indicates it is  conducting the Initial Development Program aiming at verification of the system with firings from a submerged submarine against real targets - see http://www.diehl.com/en/diehl-defence/products/guided-missiles/idas.html .

Alternatively, the IDAS could, in theory, be fired from the Gabler Maschinenbau TRIPLE-M mast system. However the TRIPLE-M mainly features the "Muraena" RMK 30mm recoiless "autocannon" as the preferred solution for nosey helicopters or MPAs. The Muraena can also be used against small pirate boats (eg. trawler sized) that are not worth a torpedo.

These French and German concepts can only be fully assessed and compared when they are mature, tested and operational technologies.

Meanwhile Russia may have developed a more mature SLAM system. Kilo submarines as well as Akula or Yasen SSNs can be fitted with launchers for missiles from the broad Igla family (perhaps  "Strelets Igla-S" SA-N-24) missiles. They come in 1 to 3 shot containers for sail-surface firing. There are also 8 shot containers that may be torpedo tube mounted. Their range may be up to 6km. 

The US, with its all nuclear sub force and only nuclear sub production, may value maintaining submarine stealth more highly - to the exclusion of developing SLAM systems.


July 27, 2015

Woman in US Navy Submarines!

Lt. Cmdr. Maura Thompson, SSBN supply officer. 

SILVERDALE, [Washington State] — A 2000 Liberty High School graduate and Salem, West Virginia, native is serving aboard one of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, living and working at [the Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington State]..

Lt. Cmdr. Maura Thompson is the supply officer on USS Louisiana (SSBN 743), which is based [at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor] about 15 miles west of Seattle across Puget Sound. She is responsible for managing the food service and the logistical warehouse on board the ship.
“What I enjoy most is the sailors,” Thompson said. “On our submarine, we have only a little more than 150 total people, so I can get personally involved...".

USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) is one of the Navy’s 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, also referred to as “boomers,” which patrol the world’s oceans for months at a time, serving as undetectable launch platforms for submarine-launched ballistic missiles..."

Ship missile systems operator Petty Officer (2nd class) Lisa Reaux aims to join SSGN crew. 

"[Lisa Reaux] The 26-year-old petty officer second class recently was chosen as one of the first female enlisted sailors to undergo training to serve on a submarine. If she successfully completes the year long preparation, Reaux will be assigned to the USS Michigan, an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine based in Bangor, Wash...There are currently 39 nuclear-trained female officers and 16 female supply officers serving on 16 crews aboard nine submarines, ..."

An Ohio class SSBN. Click image to expand or access very large image here. (Cutaway diagram courtesy American History). Each Ohio SSBN (16,764 tonnes surfaced) can fire 24 Trident II/Trident D5 missiles. Each missile can carry up to 12  MIRVed W88 (475 kt) warheads or 12 W76 (100 kt) warheads. The US Navy's 4 SSGNs are modified Ohio subs.

Just a small part of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, Washington State, USA. Is the large building in the foreground the Base Exchange shopping center (?) (Photo courtesy Bremerton-Olympic Peninsula Council of the U.S. Navy League)


Having a Lt. Cmdr just to run the supply section of a submarine shows how big the submarine is (with 2 x 155 person Gold/Blue crews per SSBN).

There have been major misgivings from many in the US Navy (and ex US Navy) about having women in US submarines. 

Vigilis, who writes at Molten Eagle, has indicated in Comments :

"The Obama administration has callously placed women on U.S. nuclear subs, which unlike most non-nuclear subs, are typically deployed for at least six months at a time on missions of stealth. This decision was made for purely political purposes under the false ruse of a "shortage of male submariners." However, the announced shortage of sub volunteers (27 OCT 2009) was soon betrayed by [Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate Programs] NUPOC's 17 May 2010 announcement asking for sub nucs to switch to [Surface Warfare Officer] SWO (surface ship status). The Naval Academy provided 119 submarine ensigns in its 2009 graduating class, 2 more than in 2008's, and 31 more than 2006's.

There are three excellent, factual reasons women should have continued to be excluded from nuclear sub duty, and I can assure you that none of the real reasons has anything to do with "feelings [that] are a disgrace to peoplehood."

1. Women have been assigned as "supernumerary" and/or redundant duties (non-critical jobs in case of pregnancies). In other words, not mission-critical jobs.

2. The rate of women sailors missing movement on U.S. surface ships has been alarming for the world's premiere navy, and human nature applies to subs as well... There were 778 pregnancies among 6,166 women crew members aboard 53 surface ships ... The highest pregnancy rate was aboard submarine tenders (27 per 100 woman-years), and the lowest rate was aboard amphibious assault ships (0 per 100 woman-years). ... reported outcomes included normal pregnancies, elective abortions, ectopic pregnancies, spontaneous abortions, and stillbirths, regardless of whether they resulted in hospitalization. The female requirement for medical care is much higher than for men (who have historically had all four 4th molars removed prior to submarine duty (Cold War) as a precaution to avoid mission interference.

3. The combination of 1 and 2 will lead to deterioration of male morale, reccruiting and retention as the once elite submarine service gradually becomes a British-type service of grievous errors, poor crew selection, poorer maintenance, and second rate mission completion. We do not need a weaker submarine force.

One need not take an ex-submariners opinion alone, however. Here is a recent quote from an active-duty admiral who is obviously concerned:

“The loss of even one member of a crew can have a significant ripple effect on a submarine, especially when it’s someone who holds unique qualifications. In many cases, that means we either pull someone from another crew or we end up with a deficit in skills. Neither of those stopgap solutions is ideal.” - Rear Adm. DaveKriete, commander, Submarine Group Nine, Bangor Leaders Seek To DecreaseUnplanned Personnel Losses, July 1, 2015.

More at http://aquilinefocus.blogspot.com/2015/07/submarine-quote-of-month-july-2015.html"


July 24, 2015

Japan Looking at UK Help to Win Australian Submarine Competition

on time, on budget at Williamstown dockyard, Victoria, Australia.

An article by several Reuters reporters indicates "Exclusive: Japan eyes British help to sink German bid for Australian submarine" http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/07/23/us-japan-australia-submarine-exclusive-idUSKCN0PX1FG20150723. The article indicates the Japanese government is in talks with at least two British firms (Babcock International Group and BAE Systems) to help a Japanese consortium win the Australian future submarine competitive evaluation process. Babcock does maintenance work on the Collins and BAE Systems employs 4,500 people in Australia.

The Japanese consortium includes MHI and KHI and the German competitor they wish to beat is TKMS. Japan may wish to boost Australian industrial participation in the project. Japan may also want cooperation from Sweden’s Saab in the Japanese sales campaign. France’s DCNS is also competing.

The Reuters article further reports “According to a company document seen by Reuters, the German bidder TKMS will train local contractors using advanced German manufacturing and production technology and help establish Australia as a naval shipbuilding and repair hub in the Asia-Pacific region.”

“…Australia's Abbot has described Japan as his country's "closest friend in Asia". With the United States also keen to spur friendlier ties between its two key allies in Asia, Tokyo has Washington's backing for made-in-Japan submarines packed with American surveillance, radar and weapons equipment, sources familiar with Washington's thinking told Reuters earlier...” 


Camera Footage of Action Inside Chinese Submarines

Have you even wondered how the Chinese media views the Peoples Liberation Army - Navy (PLAN) submarine service? While submarines are ideally quiet, submerged and solitary - the Youtube above depict lots of shouting, surfaced action and groups of subs charging. 

A Chinese Yuan class submarine. This is perhaps a more realistic submarine experience. I like the  stirring rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Though the Youtube at https://youtu.be/21XEInvvVn8 (click "Show More") describes the sub as "Song class" is also says it has "air-independent stirling circle propulsion (AIP)" (thankyou Sweden :) which makes it a Yuan class. It also carries a Chinese development of a French Thomson-CSF TSM-2233 attack sonar in the bow. It may well have a MTU diesel designed by Germany. Notice the "birthday cake" made of tropical fruit for a crew member - 4 minutes 25 seconds in.


July 23, 2015

Two of the Possible Choices for UK's Next Maritime Patrol Aircraft

First aircraft.

The status of the Airbus Military A319 MPA (also called MPA319) (above) is difficult to discern. (Image Courtesy Airbus Military via naval technology (nt)). 

The A319 MPA appears to be a European answer to the better known Boeing P-8 Poseidon. The A319A is (or will be) powered by two IAE V2527M-A5 or CFM56-5B7 engines providing a thrust of 26,500lbf or 27,000lbf. The twin-turbofan configuration provides a maximum speed of Mach 0.82. A319 MPA is based on the airframe of Airbus A319 commercial aircraft.  Future buyers might include Germany, France and perhaps the UK.

The A319 MPA is (or will be) a long range maritime patrol and ASW aircraft which can be deployed in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions. "The low-altitude loiter or search capability, exceeding range, endurance and fast transit speed make the A319 the best maritime patrol aircraft in its range." See full description.
Second aircraft.

In July 2015 the Japanese Navy sent two Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft to the UK’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). This included a slow flypast with the weapons bay doors opened. (Photo Courtesy Chris Pocock via AIN article)

Japan’s New Maritime Patroller Makes International Debut

The Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) is on display outside Japan for the first time this weekend, at the UK’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT). The Japanese [Navy] flew two of the four-jet machines across the Pacific, the U.S. and the Atlantic to reach the show at RAF Fairford. They will move on next week to Djibouti for flight tests in hot and desert conditions, before returning to their base at NAS Atsugi outside Tokyo.

The P-1 is an indigenous development, designed to replace the [Japanese Navy's] aging P-3 Orion fleet. Powered by four IHI F7-10 turbofans each developing some 13,000 pounds of thrust, the P-1 has a range of 4,300 nm and can carry AGM-65 Maverick and AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, plus sonobuoys and torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. A mine-laying capability will be added later." FULL ARTICLE


It is a very complex issue (involving tradeoffs and emerging technical trends) when considering:

1. whether jets can fly anti-submarine patrols as effectively as propeller driven aircraft and 

2. whether four engines should be chosen if one assumes four engines provide a significant margin of safety over two engines.

One reason Japan is marketing the new four engine Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) to the UK is that the UK's previous MPA was the four jet engined Hawker Siddeley Nimrod.


July 22, 2015

Indian Company Signs Contract for Kilo Submarine Maintenance.

A Russian designed older version Kilo class submarine. The export version is known as Project 877EKM by Russia's Rubin Design Bureau. India has 9, known as the Sindhughosh class.

Indian press articles on submarines too often report the Indian Government's vague plans to build X number of nuclear submarines over some indeterminate time period. The article below is different - much more down to Earth. The deal below with Russia could be interpreted as being part of Russia's campaign to sell 6 Amur/Ladas (with AIP and VLS) to India for India's future submarine competition Project 75(I).

Ajai Shukla for India's Business Standard, July 22, 2015 reports http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/anil-ambani-signs-splashy-russian-joint-venture-for-submarine-overhaul-115072200015_1.html :

"Anil Ambani [pictured] signs splashy Russian joint venture for submarine overhaul
Projects Rs 31,000 crore [US$4.87 Billion] of business from Indian and regional navies

In a first for a private Indian defence company, Co Ltd (PDOC) announced on Tuesday a joint venture (JV) with Russia's overhaul yard. This positions PDOC nicely for overhauling India's nine Russian-origin Kilo-class [known as Sindhughosh class in India] submarines, and several identical submarines operated by other regional navies.

In an announcement in Mumbai on Tuesday, PDOC stated: "The indicative value of work proposed to be undertaken by the proposed JV is approx. (sic) Rs 11,000 crore." [US$1.7 Billion]

PDOC also mentioned "potential additional revenues of approx. Rs 20,000 crore" [US$3.1 Billion] from the navies of Iran, Algeria and Vietnam.

A submarine undergoes an overhaul or refit - termed "medium refit and life certification" (MRLC) - every 10-15 years in its 30-year service life. This involves upgrading weapons, sensors and communications systems; and inspecting, repairing and replacing worn out parts of a submarine's two hulls (an inner "pressure hull" and an outer hull).

Refitting a Kilo-class (or 877 EKM) [Project 877 = older class Kilos, EKM = export version]  submarine in India offers advantages like cheaper labour costs and saving on transportation to Russia and back. It also provides opportunities for indigenising sub-systems in the submarine, and develops expertise.

PDOC's statement says that Zvyozdochka will "provide complete technical assistance and support to the JV, including inter alia for enhancement of infrastructure at the PDOC facilities, training of engineers, etc. PDOC technicians will also be closely associated with the first refit to be carried out in Russia."

On August 29, 2014, the defence ministry had cleared a Rs 4,800-crore [US$750 Million] refit for six submarines. Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai, was to refit [two German-origin HDW 209 Shishumar class submarines]. Meanwhile, Zvyozdochka and Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, would each refit two kilo-class submarines.

It is unclear whether the defence ministry is committed to the new venture between PDOC and Zvyozdochka; and, if so, whether it would change the arrangement it has already cleared. It is also unclear whether the defence ministry would disregard the experience already developed in two Indian shipyards - Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam, and Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL) - which have refitted one Kilo-class submarine each. Furthermore, other Indian shipyards, including Larsen & Toubro, are competing for a chunk of the submarine overhaul business.

HSL, especially, has had a bitter experience with Zvyozdochka, reported by this newspaper (September 2, 2014, 'Russia delayed sub refit to weaken shipyard?'), in which the overhaul of a Kilo-class vessel, INS Sindhukirti, dragged on for nine years. Senior HSL officials made a strong case to suggest that Zvyozdochka experts deliberately prolonged the refit by ordering unnecessary work, to eliminate HSL from future Indian submarine refits.

Now officials from HSL and other shipyards allege that Zvyozdochka has chosen to partner PDOC, a new player in the market, to comprehensively control the refit programme, which the Russians would be unable to do with a more experienced Indian shipyard.

Rivals point out that PDOC has never produced a single naval combat vessel of any complexity. It is true that the shipyard is long overdue on delivering a Rs 2,500-crore [US$393 Million] order for five Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels. Even so, Anil Ambani's has recently thrown its weight behind the shipyard, acquiring it in March from Nikhil Gandhi of Sea King Infrastructure Ltd. Ambani paid Rs 819 crore for an 18 per cent stake, and is committed to making a public offer for another 26 per cent of the shipyard.

Ambani is gung-ho about PDOC's prospects. At a seminar in Delhi on July 16, he spelled out an expansive vision of Pipavav Shipyard as a "Global Centre of Excellence" that would build warships of all kinds, from aircraft carriers to frigates to submarines.

Claiming that Pipavav Shipyard had assets worth over Rs 10,000 crore [US$1.57 Billion], Ambani played up its impressive shipbuilding facilities, including "the largest dry dock in the country and second-largest in the world", Ambani said he would invest another Rs 5,000 crore [US$790 Million] in the shipyard.
If Ambani's PDOC lacks experience, Zvyozdochka has that aplenty. Established in 1954, it has overhauled or refurbished more than 120 submarines and 90 warships. It remains to be seen how much of that experience and hold over the market it is willing to transfer to PDOC."