Full transfer of Scorpene submarines’ technology: French firm

July 18th, 2008 - 2:18 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) French warship major DCNS says it will fully transfer technology for its Scorpene submarines that are being built in this country for the Indian Navy and that the six boats contracted for will be delivered on schedule by 2017. “Transfer of technology is not an issue. We will fully abide by our contractual obligations and even go a step further by providing equipment that has not even been asked for but will aid in the construction of the submarines,” said DCNS chairperson and CEO Jean-Marie Poimboeuf.

“We have already started to transfer technology. This is a big challenge but we are totally confident we will achieve what we have set out to do,” Paris-based Poimboeuf told IANS in an interview here.

India and France had in 2005 signed a Rs.130 billion ($3 billion) deal for six Scorpene submarines armed with Exocet anti-ship missiles. It was originally thought that one of these would be in sail-away condition while the remaining five would be manufactured at the state-owned Mazgaon Docks Limited (MDL) at Mumbai. It now transpires that MDL would build all the six vessels.

“There is no restriction at all from the French government (on transferring technology),” Poimboeuf pointed out.

The official is here for a visit he undertakes every six months to monitor the progress in the construction of the first Scorpene submarine at MDL, which began last year.

He has also interacted with defence ministry officials on future contracts - including for the next generation Scorpenes that will be capable of firing long-range air-breathing missiles.

Discussing the challenges in transferring technology, Poimboeuf said this was because the wheel had virtually to be reinvented in training Indian engineers and technicians for the job at hand.

“We had to start from scratch because whatever expertise India had acquired in building submarines had been lost as no boats have been constructed for nearly 20 years,” Poimboeuf explained.

The last time a submarine was built in India was in the late 1980s when MDL constructed under licence two German HDW boats, in addition to two that the Indian Navy had purchased in sail-away condition. MDL was to have constructed a total of four boats but the contract was abruptly terminated following charges that HDW had paid massive kickbacks to secure the Rs.4.20 billion deal.

The four HDW submarines in the Indian Navy’s fleet of 16 boats will approach the end of their combat life between 2016 and 2024.

“Today, there is a new generation (of Indian engineers and technicians). We have to start from scratch in training them and are very serious about this,” Poimboeuf said.

Toward this end, DCNS has deployed 15 French engineers at MDL against the six it was obligated to and plans to raise the number to 30 as the project proceeds.

It is also opening a fully owned-subsidiary in Mumbai next month to speed up the technology transfer process and to involve Indian industries by way of joint ventures or outsourcing.

“The subsidiary would not only support the submarine project but work with local companies to indigenise the boats,” Poimboeuf explained.

Speaking about the construction of the first Scorpene, he said its various sections were being built and after integration of the systems they would carry, they would be put together by the end of the year.

“The full integration of all the systems would take another three years, after which sea trials would be conducted over a period of 12-18 months before the vessel is declared fully operational by 2012,” DCNS Vice President (Projects) Pierre Legros explained.

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