The story so far: INS Vagir, the fifth of the Kalvari-class submarines under Project-75, has been commissioned into the Indian Navy at a time when China is making forays into the strategically important Indian Ocean region.
The submarine has been built indigenously by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) and designed by French naval defence company Naval Group (formerly known as DCNS) as part of the Indian Navy’s Project-75. While four of the Kalvari-class submarines have already been commissioned, the last is likely to join the fleet by 2024.
INS Vagir takes its name from the sand shark, a deep-sea predator endemic to the Indian Ocean. It will form part of the Western Naval Command’s submarine fleet. As per the Ministry of Defence, the submarine’s induction will boost the capabilities of the armed forces, enabling them to further the maritime interests of the country in deterring the enemy, and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) to provide decisive blows in times of crisis.
What are Scorpène-class submarines?
In October 2005, India signed a $3.75-billion deal as part of Project-75 for the indigenous construction of six diesel-electric attack submarines in collaboration with the Naval Group of France— for the transfer of technology of its Scorpène-class.
One of the most advanced conventional submarines, referred to as the “most silent underwater killer machines” in the world, Scorpène-class submarines are equipped with potent weapons and sensors to neutralise threats above or below the sea. France’s Naval Group says that the third-generation air-independent propulsion (AIP) system and stealth and autonomous features of the Scorpène class give the submarine 18 days of autonomy at sea. These submarines are capable of missions related to combat against surface ships and submarines, intelligence gathering, and special operations, and can operate both in the open sea and shallow waters.
The six Scorpène-class submarines of P75 have been designed to operate in all theatres and undertake missions involving anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine-laying and area surveillance. They also have a SONAR suite and sensor suite.
The modern technology used in Scorpène submarines ensures superior stealth features such as advanced acoustic absorption techniques, low radiated noise levels, a hydro-dynamically optimised shape , and the ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision-guided weapons, according to a government press release. “The attack can be launched with both torpedoes and tube-launched anti-ship missiles, whilst underwater or on the surface. The stealth of this potent platform is enhanced by the special attention provided to her characteristic underwater signatures,” it adds.
What are Kalvari-class submarines?
The six submarines were to be delivered between 2010 and 2015, but the project faced several delays, including procedural issues in the procurement of equipment required to build submarines and a massive data leak in 2016. It was only in 2017 that the first submarine, INS Kalvari, was commissioned into service.
The second submarine, INS Khanderi, was inducted into the Navy’s fleet in September 2019, while the third and fourth, INS Karanj and INS Vela, were commissioned in 2021. INS Vagsheer, the last of the six Scorpène-class submarines after INS Vagir, was launched into the water in April 2022. It is expected to be delivered to the Indian Navy in 2024.
What is special about INS Vagir?
The fifth Kalvari-class submarine is a reincarnation of its earlier version, which was in service for over three decades. It was commissioned in November 1973 and decommissioned in January 2001.
In its latest avatar, INS Vagir holds the distinction of the lowest build time among indigenously manufactured submarines and for completing major trials in the shortest span— even winning praise for its feats from Admiral R Hari Kumar, the Chief of Naval Staff.
Named after the sand shark to represent the submarine’s stealth and fearlessness, qualities the Navy calls synonymous with the ethos of a submariner, INS Vagir was launched in November 2020. Its maiden sea sortie took place in February last year, followed by a series of trials before the submarine was delivered to the Indian Navy in December 2022.
The Navy says that INS Vagir is capable of neutralising a large enemy fleet. The submarine is equipped with advanced sensors and weaponry including wire-guided torpedoes and sub-surface-to-surface missiles. It has a state-of-the-art torpedo decoy system for self-defence and can launch marine commandos for special operations. Its diesel engines can also quickly charge batteries for a stealth mission, as per the Navy.
The armed forces also plan to install an AIP system on all Scorpène submarines to enhance endurance under water. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is in the advanced stages of developing an indigenous AIP module.
What is AIP?
An AIP module enables conventional submarines to remain submerged for a longer duration, thereby increasing their endurance and reducing chances of detection.
Why is the INS Vagir significant?
The Indian Navy began operating submarines in the 1960s. It moved to nuclear submarines within two decades, when it leased a Soviet Charlie-class submarine, named INS Chakra, between 1988 and 1991.
As of date, with INS Vagir joining the fleet, the Indian Navy has 16 conventional and one nuclear submarine in service. These include seven Russian Kilo-class submarines, four German HDW submarines, five Scorpène-class submarines, and the nuclear ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Admiral Kumar said that INS Vagir is the third submarine inducted into the Navy in a short span of 24 months. “This is no small achievement and underscores the coming of age of India’s shipbuilding industry and the maturing of our defence ecosystem. It is also a shining testimony to the expertise and experience of our shipyards to construct complex and complicated platforms.”
Another project to build six new-generation stealth submarines with foreign collaboration is in the pipeline. The programme, Project-75 India, is aimed at progressively building indigenous capabilities in the private sector to “design, develop and manufacture complex weapon systems for the future needs of the armed forces”. The project is currently in the request-for-proposal stage.