I was a rookie reporter nine years ago in October 2005 when, in the main ceremonial room of the Indian MoD, then Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt and then Ambassador of France, the tempestuous Dominique Girard, signed the Indian government's contract for six Scorpene submarines. I had spent just over a year on the defence beat at The Indian Express. The P75 submarine build programme was one of the biggest developing stories at the time.
It would be the new UPA government's first defence deal, and the Indian Navy was desperate for an early conclusion. Only two weeks before the signing at the MoD, I and a small group of other reporters were huddled in a small conference room at Delhi's Hyatt Hotel receiving a briefing from Germany's HDW on the Class 214 submarine. We were only journalists, but it was a final effort to pitch the U-boat as a better product than the French offering that would defeat it less than 14 days later.
Nearly a decade later, the Germans are back in the race. Presumably. (No maker of submarines has officially declared interest in the P75I competition since it was cleared for a 'Make in India' route earlier this month.) Cleared of corruption allegations in the Shishumar-class build programme, the Germans still smart at how they lost the 2005 deal. And they'll be competing to make good. But, in every way -- every possible way -- the P75I programme is likely to be more complicated, contentious and competitive than its predecessor. The Class 214, which squared off against the Scorpene in the final race the last time, could face at least four worthy competitors this time. All come with their own technical, capability-centric and political pros and cons:
All six submarines will be built in India at an Indian shipyard. By December, the MoD has committed to identifying the public and private shipyards capable of taking on such work. Apart from Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) and L&T's shipyards (the only two currently engaged in submarine building work), the MoD will size up Cochin Shipyard Ltd, GRSE, GSL, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) and Pipavav, among prospective others.
Here's the original P75I request for information from years ago, which originally envisaged two submarines built by the OEM and four in an Indian shipyard: