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INS Vela: Yet Another Feather In India’s Weapons Cap – OpEd

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Project-75 Submarine INS Vela was commissioned on November 25, 2021 by Indian Naval Chief Admiral Karambir Singh. This is the second addition to Indian Navy after INS Visakhapatnam on November 21, 2021. It has been commissioned as part of the Western Command’s Submarine fleet. INS Vela is one of six submarines of Scorpene design that are being built by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) in Mumbai through a transfer of technology from French firm Naval Group. Construction of the submarines in India is in line with the Indian Government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative and the use of indigenous content contributes towards making it another milestone towards ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. 

Project 75:

Project 75 was first conceived under IK Gujral’s Indian Government and since then ran into several troubles in its lifecycle before the Indian Ministry of Defence approved the plan in 1997. Under the Project, 25 Submarines are to be acquired. India thus began negotiations in 1998 with DCN for four Scorpene Submarines with two to be built in Mazagao Dock Limited (MDL) from knock-down kits. However, after long exploration and different rounds of negotiations the contracts were signed between MDL and a joint venture of DCN and Thales for building six submarines, on October 06, 2005. Thus, the executing company on the Indian side is MDL and on the French side is DCNS, which is now called Naval Group. The value of the entire programme was then 2.4 billion Euro and the submarines were to be delivered over five years starting from 2012. According to other sources, the Deal was on $3.75 billion. However, the delay has happened on account of time taken to finalise the contract and also for finalization of contracts for the procurement of sensors and propulsion system components by MDL and DCNS. The commissioning of ships and submarines have been further delayed on account of COVID-19 pandemic. 

Presently, all the six submarines are at different stages of the cycle under Project-75. The Submarines have been designed by French naval defence and energy company DCNS. The names of six submarines in the Kaveri class are: INS Kalvari, INS Khanderi, INS Karanj, INS Vagir and INS Vasgheer. Project, thus has suffered delays and reluctance of the French Government as it included ‘Transfer of Technology’. Consequently, the first of the six Submarines, INS Kalvari, was commissioned five years behind schedule, in 2017. Subsequently, INS Khanderi (2019) and INS Karanj were commissioned, and Vela is the fourth. Presently, Vagir is on sea trials, and has now been launched and Vasgheer is under construction.

Submarine and their class are named from the first submarines inducted into the Indian Navy. The now-decommissioned Kalvari and Vela classes were one of the earliest of the submarines in the post-Independent Indian Navy, which belonged to Soviet origin Foxtrot class of vessels. Vela was in service for 37 years during 1973 to 2010. 

Commissioning of Ship or Submarine:

Commissioning is an old ceremonial tradition that is followed and is one of the most important steps that is associated with the submarine/ship coming to life. Once the commissioning is done, the submarine gets entitled to fly the naval ensign and the national flag. It is then formally recognised as the legitimate and sovereign representative of India.

INS Vela:

Vela’s construction began on July 14, 2009 and was launched on May 6, 2019. INS Vela’s length is 67.5 meters, height is 12.3 meters, an overall beam of 6.2 meters, and a draught of 5.8 metres. 

Kaveri-class submarine INS Vela is the fourth submarine, which is designed to act as a sea denial as well as access denial warfare to the adversary. Following are the major features of INS Vela:

  1. It is capable of offensive operations across the entire spectrum of naval warfare including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying and area surveillance. 
  2. It is capable to reach top speed of 20kn (37km/h) when submerged and a maximum speed of 11 knots (20km/h) when surfaced.
  3. It has four MTU 12V 396SE84 diesel engines and 360 battery cells for power. It also has a silent Permanently Magnetised Propulsion Motor. 
  4. The hull, fin and hydroplanes are designed for minimum underwater resistance and all equipment inside the pressure hull is mounted on shock-absorbing cradles for enhanced stealth.
  5. The submarine can take up to eight officers and 35 men.
  6. Submarine is equipped with C303 anti-torpedo countermeasure system, and can carry up to 18 torpedoes or Exocet anti-ship missiles or 30 mines in place of torpedoes. 

Vela thus has the most advanced weapons and sensors which are integrated into the Submarine Tactical Integrated Combat System known as SUBTICS. Its sea-skimming missiles also known as Flying Fish or heavy weight wire-guided torpedoes can be used to hit at the identified target.

Its strategic Dimensions:

More recently the numbers of Chinese vessels have been increasing in the Indian Ocean. The maritime region is fast turning into a zone of confrontation with the western countries especially USA pivoting towards the region to check Chinese power projections and its increasing presence in South China Sea as well as all over the Indo-Pacific maritime region. India, thus has been facing challenges in its maritime zone which could be addressed through developing a matching state-of-the-art ships and submarines and that too in sufficient numbers. Hence, India has been expediting its acquisitions for its Navy. 

Vela is a Scorpene class submarine. Scorpene class submarines are extremely potent platforms. They have advanced stealth features equipped with long-range guided torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Vela is potent and has the capability to undertake offensive operations spanning across the entire spectrum of maritime warfare. Once it goes deep in, the latest sub is equipped to kill with stealth and strength. 

Vela’s motto is “Vigilant, Valiant, Victorious” which epitomises the submarine’s spirit for achieving the tasks at hand. The crew is highly inspired to be always prepared to face all challenges and be alert and emerge triumphant every time. 

Vela is also a diesel-electric powered attack submarine. It has been designed to act as “sea denial” as well as “access denial” warfare to the adversary. Vela is designed to make it capable of undertaking offensive operations spanning across the entire spectrum of maritime warfare. 

Make in India for the World—Towards Atmanirbhar Bharat:

Vela has further made India to move one-step ahead in it ‘Make in India’ spirit as it includes fitment such as indigenised battery cells, and has been produced at MDL. Several other equipment fitted onboard is made in India by highly qualified and trained industrial Micro, Small, & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), which forms the sound base of the submarine ecosystem. Therefore, India is gradually moving towards its motto of becoming Atmanirbhar Bharat even in the area of defence manufacturing. Once India is able to manufacture ships and submarines it can also enter into arms and weapons market in this arena. Hence, India is well on the track of ‘Make in India for the World.” 

With the inclusion of Vela Indian Navy has by now 16 conventional and one nuclear submarine in service. It includes eight Russian Kilo class submarines, four German HDW submarines, four French Scorpene submarines and the indigenous nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant.   

The Indian Navy has proposed to procure six advanced submarines under Project-75I. The Navy has a 30-year submarine building programme after P75I. All these projects have enough of indigenous content so that India moves ahead to be self-reliant. 

Conclusion:

With the inclusion if INS Vela India has truly moved ahead one step more in the direction of self-sufficiency in arms production on the one hand; and adding prowess to its Naval Force on the other. It is indeed a morale booster to Indian Navy, and would enhance its confidence and strength. It will further inspire policy-makers to expedite acquisitions through indigenous production system with public-private partnership model within the country and through entering into contract with ‘Technology Transfer Deal’ with foreign suppliers of arms. 

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Alok Kumar Gupta*

Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta, Associate Professor Department of Politics and International Relations, Central University of Jharkhand Ranchi, Jharkhand, India