To make up for the shortfall in the number of ships and submarines, the Indian Navy has begun the process of upgrading six of its oldest submarines.

Four Sindhughosh-class (Russian Kilo) and two Shishumar-class (German HDW) submarines are to be engaged in ‘life extension and refit’ programmes, in a process that will significantly enhance their combat worthiness.

MRLC programme

At ₹1,000 crore per boat, INS Sindhukesari, INS Sindhuraj, INS Sindhuratna, INS Sindhughosh, INS Shishumar and INS Shankush have been identified for the Major Refit and Life Certification (MRLC) programme.

“The Navy has opted to upgrade its existing fleet,” said sources. “Time and cost overruns and controversies have delayed the induction of the six Scorpene submarines. By the time all the Scorpenes join the fleet, the oldest will have completed its tenure. The service life of a submarine typically varies between 25-30 years.”

Sources said most of the submarines have already done about 20 years or more and have gone through at least one life extension.

Complex process

Noting that all units of the Indian Navy follow a comprehensive operational-cum-refit cycle, sources said the MRLC programme, under which a submarine is refitted with the latest technology and naval systems, is an extremely time-consuming and technologically complex process. It normally takes about 24-27 months.

The military shipyard Zvyezdochka in Russia, part of United Shipbuilding Corporation, has undertaken repair work on the Sindhukesari, a diesel-electric submarine of the Indian Navy. Officials said that for the Sindhukesari, the MRLC contract was inked on October 14, 2015, at a cost of ₹1,197 crore. “The submarine is currently undergoing MRLC at Russia's Zvyezdochka shipyard and is expected to sail back to India this October after the refit, which will make it sturdy for another 10 years,” said sources.

The Russian shipyard, which specialises in the repair and scrapping of nuclear-powered submarines, had helped modernise five diesel-electric submarines of the Navy since 1997. Incidentally, the Sindhukesari was built in Russia as part of Project 877 EKM.

L&T partnership

Other submarines are also undergoing a similar refit process. For the Sindhuratna, the MRLC is to be undertaken at an Indian yard with assistance from Russia’s Zvyezdochka shipyard. In December 2015, the Russian shipyard had selected Larsen & Toubro as its Indian partner for undertaking the MRLC. Accordingly, L&T and the Russian OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) inked a contract for the transfer of Principal Refit Technology.

Similarly, the MRLC of Sindhuraj was also inked at a Russian shipyard last February for an estimated $207.3 million. The refit work commenced last July. Built by Russian shipbuilder Sevmash and commissioned into the Indian Navy in October 1987, Sindhuraj is in Russia for her second life extension refit and modernisation procedure.

Indian ventures

For Sindhughosh, an Indian shipyard with Russian OEM’s assistance is to carry out the refit in 2020.

Sources pointed out the MRLC of Shishumar is being planned to be undertaken at Mumbai's Mazagaon Dock with a German OEM. “Assistance will be provided by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany. The company has submitted its budget in August 2016, and a RFP is likely to be issued soon,” sources said.

In the case of MRLC of Shankush, an Indian shipyard with OEM and assistance from Mazagaon Dock will be undertaken in 2020-2021.