China's submarine progress alarms
India By Siddharth Srivastava
NEW DELHI - Recent reports about China's
nuclear-powered submarine and naval capabilities
are raising concern in New Delhi. It has also
drawn attention to India's failure to effectively
implement an elaborate naval expansion plan that
stands significantly delayed.
reports, commercial satellite images indicate that
the Chinese are building a massive strategic naval
base on Hainan island, in the South China Sea,
south of Hong Kong. This confirms suspicions of
several Asian nations since 2002 about the
underground submarine base.
British daily has described the base as a "vast,
James Bond-style edifice capable of concealing up
to 20 nuclear-powered
submarines and which will enable
China to project its power across the region".
Nuclear submarines can remain under water
longer than conventional diesel-electric
submarines and are thus difficult to detect. They
are also capable of firing nuclear warheads.
Refusing to confirm or deny the base, a
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "There
is no need for the Western countries to be
worried, or concerned, or make any irresponsible
accusations. We have a vast territorial sea. It is
the sacred duty of the Chinese army to safeguard
our security on sea," he said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Defense Minister
A K Antony have said that all steps are being
taken to protect India's security interests and
In a more detailed reaction,
India's navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said
India has been aware of the base and would like to
avoid a situation where it faces the prospect of a
large number of nuclear submarines in its
"Though India is not worried
about Beijing building a strategic naval base on
Hainan Island in the South China Sea, it is
concerned about the numbers. Nuclear submarines
have long legs [traversing anywhere between
7,000-15,000 kilometers] it is immaterial where
they are based," Mehta said.
reports will only deepen the already heightened
China focus of India's ongoing US$50 billion
defense modernization exercise. This week, India
tested for the third time the 3,500
kilometer-range Agni III ballistic missile that
would be capable of hitting Beijing and Shanghai.
New Delhi has said that the Agni III is now ready
for induction. China's capabilities are of course
far advanced, with its missiles capable of hitting
over 11,000 kilometers.
India has been
developing a ballistic missile defense program as
With India and China sharing the
same strategic space in the Indian Ocean region,
Indian defense experts view China as a long-term
military threat, instead of Pakistan.
China is already beefing up bilateral ties
with Pakistan, via involvement in projects such as
the Gwadar port in Balochistan province, Sri Lanka
and Myanmar to deepen its hold over the
inter-linked complex energy-security picture in
Quest for a nuclear
submarine Although India possesses air
and land-based nuclear delivery platforms in the
form of ballistic missiles (Agni, Prithvi) and
fighter jets (Mirages), an undersea platform such
as a nuclear submarine, the third leg of a nuclear
triad, is absent. The Indian navy's nuclear
experience is limited to a nuclear submarine
leased from Russia from 1988-91.
huge volumes of oil movement between the Persian
Gulf and the Malacca Strait towards North Asia,
the Indian navy has been looking to plug the
China reportedly possesses
five nuclear submarines and is looking to double
the fleet. Not to be left behind, Pakistan is
looking to equip its Agosta submarines with Babur
India is planning an
initial fleet of three nuclear submarines.
India's indigenous Advanced Technology
Vessel (ATV), a nuclear-backed ballistic missile
submarine project, began in the 1970s. Trials of
the ATV are supposed to begin next year. This
year, India underlined its submarine missile
launch capabilities by test-firing the K-15, code
But, given India's
notoriously delayed defense programs, no one is
sure when or whether the K-15-integrated ATV will
actually be delivered.
However, India is
due to receive its first leased nuclear submarine,
capable of firing such missiles, from Russia. This
is a 12,000 ton Akula-II class nuclear-powered
attack submarine, which was commissioned following
a $650-million secret pact. Reports say New Delhi
recently begun quiet discussions with Moscow for a
second advanced Akula-class nuclear submarine.
seas With significant delays now
expected in acquiring aircraft carriers - the
Admiral Gorskov from Russia and the two that are
being indigenously developed - other options are
being aggressively probed.
India has a
long way to go before it can match China's
arsenal. Efforts are thus focused on an effective
A key difference from an
earlier Indian obsession of indigenous development
has been co-opting foreign partners with developed
expertise and also allowing the private sector
India has taken possession
of the 36-year-old warship USS Trenton
(re-christened INS Jalashwa) with a 16,900 gross
tonnage. Trenton is the first-ever warship for the
navy from the US and the second-biggest that India
now possesses after the aircraft carrier INS
Recently, New Delhi announced a
submarine-launched supersonic missile, a
modification of the India-Russia BrahMos cruise
missiles, a capability limited to advanced nations
such as the US, France, Russia and a few more.
Antony said trials of the underwater
missiles are awaiting the necessary platform that
will be identified soon.
land-launched versions of the BrahMos are being
inducted into the navy and army, while the air
versions are being currently developed.
The state-controlled Defense Research and
Development Organization is also undertaking a
joint development project with Israel Aerospace
Industries for a surface-to-air-missile using it
from land and ship.
Last year, the
construction of the highly advanced Scorpene
submarine began at the upgraded Mazgon Dock
(Mumbai) under a $3.5 billion deal for six such
French submarines. The Indian navy is gearing to
bring in 40 new warships over the next 15 years.
The government plans to invest over $12 billion in
Given government encouragement to
the private sector to play a role in defense,
India's largest engineering and construction firm,
Larsen and Toubro (L&T), has announced plans
to build defense warships at its proposed
shipyard-cum-port facility in the south Indian
state of Tamil Nadu.
L&T has been keen
to bid for Project 75 and 76 of the Indian navy
that entails the production of 24 underwater
vessels valued at $14-16 billion to meet
challenges across the Indian Ocean region.
Ramping up the arsenal is being backed by
strategic moves. The massive Malabar naval
exercise held last September in the Bay of Bengal
is a case in point. Navies of the US, Australia,
Japan, Singapore and India participated.
India has established a listening post
that reportedly began operations early last July
in northern Madagascar, a large island off
Africa's east coast. The station is India's first
in the southern Indian Ocean and is significant
due to the increasing oil traffic around the Cape
of Good Hope and the Mozambique Channel.
Srivastava is a New Delhi-based