NEW DELHI : The defence ministry has quietly reversed a decision taken in May to scrap the acquisition of 98 Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes from Italy’s Whitehead Alenia Systemi Subacquei (WASS), following Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar not to cancel any orders until the ministry’s new debarment policy is finalised.
A ministry official said the scrapping of the Rs 1800-crore torpedo deal signed in 2014 has been stalled for the time being, also because it is affecting the nuclear submarine project of building ten submarines – six Scorpenes at Mazagaon Docks Ltd in Mumbai and four Aridaman at Visakhapatnam’s Ship Building Centre. Only early this month, the first Scorpene submarine from Mazagaon was put on sea trials without any torpedoes.
The process to revoke the Request for Proposal of WASS contract was started as a follow-up to a decision on May 6 to blacklist the Italian arms conglomerate Finmeccanica and all its subsidiaries on account of bribes paid by its UK-based subsidiary AgustaWestland in the Rs 3760-crore contract in 2010 for 12 VVIP helicopters. WASS is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica and as such the Navy was asked to look for an alternative.
Though the Navy has quickly shortlisted two other torpedoes – SeaHake from Germany and F-21 from France, the Navy told the ministry that their acquisition will involve more time and cost whereas the Black Shark selected by it is the best torpedo meeting all its requirements. Its worry is that acquisition of the alternatives will take time, delaying launch of the submarines which are useless without torpedoes meant to carry the nuclear explosives.
The ministry officials, who had initiated the process of canceling the WASS order, were taken aback by Parrikar’s order to put it on hold since they were going by his May 29 interview in which he had said that “I am very much clear that wherever there is capital procurement of Finmeccanica and their subsidiaries, all Requests for Proposal (RFPs) will be closed.”