Conducting First Underwater Trial of Fuel Cell-based AIP System in Mumbai

In a groundbreaking development, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is making significant strides in submarine technology with its fuel cell-based Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. This niche technology aims to greatly enhance the submerged endurance of submarines, allowing them to remain underwater for extended periods without surfacing. Such an advancement holds the potential to provide a substantial "force multiplier effect on the lethality of a diesel-electric submarine," according to the DRDO.

The DRDO has been working diligently on the AIP system, and now it is set to conduct the first underwater trial of this revolutionary technology in Mumbai. This critical phase of testing is scheduled for next year, following successful shore-based prototype testing completed in 2021.

The significance of this achievement cannot be understated, as the successful integration of the home-grown AIP system will find its place in three Scorpene submarines that India is in the process of acquiring from France. Moreover, the long-term plan is to equip all new submarines with this indigenous AIP system.

Compared to other technologies, the fuel cell-based AIP offers numerous merits in terms of performance. If the contract to purchase the additional three submarines is signed by the end of this year, the DRDO may have ample time to mature the project further. However, the commissioning of the AIP system into the Indian Navy's submarines will take approximately 6-7 years.

While the project progresses steadily, there remains a cautionary note, as emerging technologies might present better alternatives by the time the AIP system is ready for integration with the three additional Scorpene submarines to be manufactured in India.

To ensure seamless progress, the Defence Acquisition Council recently approved the construction of additional submarines, reflecting the commitment to advance India's naval capabilities. To support the detailed design phase for the integration of the indigenous AIP in the Kalvari class submarines, DRDO's Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL) and Naval Group France have signed a collaboration agreement. Under this agreement, Naval Group France will also certify the AIP design for seamless integration.

The fuel cell-based AIP stands out internationally for its uniqueness as it generates hydrogen onboard, eliminating the need to carry hydrogen on the submarine, which has been a major safety concern in the past.

Once successfully integrated into the submarines, India will join an elite club of nations that have indigenously developed fuel cell-based submarine Air Independent Propulsion technology. A notable feature of this green technology is that its by-product is non-polluted water, which can be safely released into the oceans.

The underwater trial of the fuel cell-based AIP system marks a pivotal moment in India's maritime prowess, promising enhanced capabilities and strengthening the country's position on the global stage. With DRDO's determination and expertise, this revolutionary technology is set to bring a new era of naval operations for India's submarines.

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