Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second submarine line for Mazagon Dock

With public sector shipyard Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), Mumbai, years behind schedule in building six conventional Scorpene submarines for the Indian Navy, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is handing Mazagon Dock another lucrative order to build three more submarines. Although private sector shipbuilders — especially L&T and Pipavav Shipyard Ltd (PSL) — argue that Mazagon Dock already has more than it can handle, MoD insists the public sector shipyard can execute this order.

The MoD’s Secretary of Defence Production, R K Singh, talking exclusively to Business Standard, has detailed Mazagon Dock’s road map for simultaneously executing the Scorpene order (Project 75, as it is termed) and the three additional submarines that are a part of the six-submarine Project 75I order.

Business Standard had reported yesterday that the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) had ruled out India’s private sector from Project 75I. The first two submarines of Project 75I will be built abroad in the foreign collaborator’s shipyard. The other four submarines will be built in MoD-owned shipyards: recently acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd will build one, while MDL builds three.

R K Singh explains, “First, the Scorpene delay will be trimmed down to less than 18 months. The original plan was for the first Scorpene to be delivered in December 2012; and the other five submarines at one-year intervals till December 2017. While the first Scorpene will only be ready in August 2015, Mazagon Dock will deliver the others faster, at nine-month intervals, and finish the last Scorpene by May 2019.”

MoD sources say Mazagon Dock is being pushed towards an even more ambitious delivery schedule: Of one Scorpene every seven months. On August 11, Defence Minister A K Antony told Parliament that Project 75 would complete work by the second half of 2018.

But Project 75I, argues R K Singh, does not have to wait till then; it can begin as early as 2012. By that year, with all six Scorpene hulls fully built, the specialised hull workers and welders of Mazagon Dock could begin fabricating hulls for Project 75I.

Singh explains, “Two Scorpene hulls are already built and MDL is close to completing the third. By early 2012, all six Scorpene hulls will be ready. MDL’s hull fabrication shop — which cuts steel for the hull, rolls it, fabricates hull segments and then welds them together into a complete hull — will be sitting idle from 2012, and ready to be diverted to Project 75I.”

The Department of Defence Production also points out that Project 75I cannot begin for another five years. At least 12-24 months are needed for a Cabinet sanction for building the first two Project 75I submarines abroad. Selecting a foreign shipyard as collaborator for Project 75I will take another 24-36 months and then one year for price negotiations.

The six Project 75I submarines will be built on a new production line, on which work has already begun. During a visit to MDL in 2009, Business Standard was shown a 16-acre plot, adjoining MDL’s facilities in Mazagon, Mumbai, which the shipyard had acquired in the 1980s from Gujarat state PSU, Alcock Ashdown.
R K Singh confirmed, “We are going to execute Project 75I in a new yard, the Alcock Yard, on which MDL is building a second submarine production line.”

Private sector shipbuilder Larsen & Toubro finds the MoD’s decision to patronise Mazagon Dock inexplicable. L&T sources say the company was given to understand that they would participate in Project 75I as the second submarine line. Now, L&T’s experience and infrastructure would lie idle.

Business Standard

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