India launches new diesel subs, but China not impressed
Delhi aims to counter China's presence in the Indian Ocean with new submarines, but the PLA Navy fleet is larger and more powerful
The Indian Navy has commissioned the nation’s third homemade diesel-electric Scorpene submarine. The Karanj was launched with much fanfare on Wednesday at the Mazagon shipyard in Mumbai.
The Indian Navy announced a US$3-billion deal in 2005 to procure six Scorpene-class submarines – at $500 million each – from subsidiaries of a Paris-based defense contractor now known as the Naval Group.
All of the stealth assault subs are being built at the Mazagon facility under a technology transfer agreement, with Indian input for elements such as an air independent propulsion system.
Local manufacturing of the submarines was a key facet to boost the Indian Navy’s blue-water ambitions, yet the first sub arrived four years behind schedule due to a raft of issues including funding and a leak of classified drawings and the operating manual.
In August 2016, The Australian newspaper reported that design details of the submarine and other ships had been leaked, with over 22,400 pages of information about its combat, frequencies and stealth specifications.
Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba was quoted as saying the leaks were viewed “very seriously”, but he also claimed it was “not a matter of much worry”, the New Indian Express reported.
The flagship of the Scorpene series, the Kalvari, a 67.5-meter-long vessel with a submerged displacement of 1,600 tons, underwent sea trials in April 2015 and entered service at the end of last year. The country’s first submarine for over two decades, it was launched at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Kalvari has six tubes that can fire 18 Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes or 39 Exocet guided anti-ship missiles.
Three more Scorpene subs are expected to be built by 2021 under Project 75. That will make a total of six submarines – half of what was previously planned 12. The Indian Navy is all set to build more submarines under Project 75A, but nothing concrete has moved ahead so far.
Chinese military observers claim the Indian subs aren’t in the same league as their “more powerful” submarines and other watercraft.
“India copied the conventional powered Scorpene class from France to replace its outmoded Kilo class submarines,” China Central Television commentator Song Zhongping said.
Chinese subs deployed in Indian Ocean
“But conventionally powered submarines are apparently inferior to the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines, which can sail to the Indian Ocean, [and] to high seas still off-limits to the Indian military,” he claimed.
The Indian Defense Ministry has said previously that at least one Chinese submarine is deployed in the Indian Ocean at any given time. That revelation has not been confirmed by Beijing, but it is an open secret that Chinese conventionally-propelled and nuclear subs have been plying routes in the Indian Ocean now that the PLA has an overseas base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
China is revving up construction of its next-generation nuclear submarines, known as Type 095, while development of a new ballistic missile sub (Type 096) is also underway.
China has an underwater force of 63 vessels – nine nuclear-powered subs, including four with ballistic missiles, plus 54 diesel-powered submarines.
The Indian fleet is much smaller. It started sea trials of its second nuclear submarine at the end of last year.