India is soon expected to float a fresh tender to build 12 mine-counter measure vessels (MCMVs), popularly called minesweepers, in collaboration with a foreign shipyard under a ?32,640 crore programme, one of the costliest projects under the Make in India initiative, said a top government official familiar with the development.
The request for proposals could be out by the year-end, said Rear Admiral Shekhar Mital (retd), who heads Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) that will build the MSMVs or minesweepers in India. South Korean shipyard Kangnam Corporation and Italian shipbuilder Intermarine are expected to compete for the lucrative project. Both shipyards responded to an Indian request for expression of interest (EoI) for the project in May.
“The navy is finalising its qualitative requirements for the minesweepers before holding discussions with the defence ministry to take the project ahead,” Mital said.
This is India’s third attempt in a decade to strengthen the navy’s mine warfare capabilities.
“The gap in the navy’s minesweeping capabilities is huge and it leaves the fleet vulnerable. The new tender is a welcome move. However, questions need to be asked internally as to why we have taken decades to fill this capability gap,” said Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd), director, Society for Policy Studies.
Navies deploy minesweepers to secure harbours by locating and destroying mines.
The government issued an EoI on March 21 after previous negotiations with Kangnam Corporation to build the minesweepers collapsed at the final stage. As reported by HT on January 8, talks with the shipyard failed because of commercial complications.
Kangnam Corporation had competed with Intermarine for the project. Before this, government scrapped a deal in 2014 to build minesweepers in India in partnership with Kangnam Corporation, amid allegations that the South Korean firm had hired middlemen to swing things in its favour.
The navy’s present mine counter-measure force consists of just two vessels, out of the six bought from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the late 1970s. It requires at least 24 minesweepers to secure major harbours in the country.
India would be without a single minesweeper till 2021, warned a March 2017 parliamentary report on the alarming decline in naval force levels. With the programme being delayed further, the navy will be without minesweepers even beyond 2021-22.
Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) may take five years to build the 12 minesweepers that will have 60% indigenous content.
Facilities have been created at GSL for building glass-reinforced plastic hulls, a design that reduces the ship’s magnetic signature, allows safer navigation through mine-infested waters. These underwater weapons can detonate on contact, or be activated by magnetic and acoustic signatures.