Paris and Moscow meet in an underwater battle, Russia loses

PARIS, FRANCE — Russia holds a significant share of the global diesel-electric submarine [DSB] market but is struggling to hold on to it due to increasing competition from leading Western European manufacturers.

Photo credit: Naval Group

Russian domestic shipbuilders have already twice lost to the French in the international competition for the best proposal for diesel-electric submarines.

Malaysia did not consider the 636M project developed by the Central Design Bureau of Naval Engineering Rubin, preferring the Scorpene [translated from French as “sea urchin”] from the Naval Group.

Indian Project 75

India also awarded the Scorpene over Project 636 as part of the international tender for Project 75. To date, four such diesel-electric submarines are in the national fleet. Sailors took delivery of the first hull from the industry in 2017, the second – in 2019, and the third and fourth – in 2021. The delivery of the fifth boat was expected before the end of 2022, but so far there have been no such announcements. The sixth hull has been launched and will be delivered next summer.

A feature of Project 75 is the fact that all “scorpions” for the Indian Navy are assembled at the facilities of the local shipbuilding giant Mazagon Docks Limited [MDL] in Mumbai [Bombay]. At the same time, the implementation of the program is subject to major delays and cost overruns.

In 2005, the client calculated the project based on the cost of 500 million euros per boat with delivery in 2012-2016. According to other sources, the French asked for 2.4 billion euros for six submarines. According to local newspapers, by 2017 the total cost of the project had risen to $5.3 billion.

New Indian project

The topic of license assembly has again come to the fore thanks to the 75i project, according to which the next six diesel-electric submarines of a foreign design will be built at the facilities of the local industry. But the choice of a shipyard and a foreign partner dragged on for a long time. The rules of the competition were seriously revised several times.

Paris and Moscow meet in an underwater battle, Russia loses
Photo credit: SNA

The Delhi government is ready to spend $8.1 billion on the project, provided the foreign developer agrees and makes it possible to assemble all six boats in Indian shipyards, guaranteeing the quality of their products. Naval Group expressed readiness to consider the possibility of continuing the production of MDL “scorpion”, and alternatively – a more modern project Shortfin Barracuda.

Both French submarines, as well as the competing Russian Amur-1650 [export version of project 677 Lada]do not meet the important condition of the competition organizers – the presence on board the prototype boat of an operational air-independent power plant [VNE].

There were several foreign firms capable of fulfilling these and other wishes of Delhi among foreign firms. This, in turn, is at odds with the auction organizers’ desire to maintain high competition among suppliers to drive down the price.

Perspective

Given the upgrade, the Scorpene will retain its export potential for some time. It uses a completely modern multimode Magtronic electric motor from the French company Jeumont Electric – a multiphase synchronous AC motor with permanent magnetic excitation.

At the same time, the prospect of developing the non-nuclear direction of French shipbuilding is connected with the implementation of the project for a diesel-electric version of the Barracuda nuclear submarine [the flagship is Suffren / Suffren].

Third Lada-class attack submarine was launched in Petersburg
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Australia was supposed to be the first buyer [the Shortfin Barracuda version was intended for it]but in September 2021 it abandoned the relevant contract [SEA1000 project], deciding to buy nuclear submarines from the USA and the UK. However, Naval Group said it would continue work on the non-nuclear Barracuda to sell it to other foreign buyers.

France is Russia’s competitor

In principle, such a development of events is possible, especially since the Naval Group did not return the advance payment to Australia, and the new prime minister even promised to pay “compensation” for the previous government’s refusal of the contract. We are talking about significant amounts, which create a financial basis for the realization of the project.

At the same time, no one had previously converted a nuclear boat into a conventional one [easier to redesign]with one exception – the French completed their nuclear firstborn [Gymnôte] as an experimental diesel boat.

France is a serious competitor of Russia in the international market of underwater equipment. This is manifested in the fact that her Scorpene project came out as the winner in international competitions, where local developments also participated.

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