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    South Asia
     Sep 29, 2010
Page 1 of 2
Leaks in India's submarine strategy
By Peter J Brown

India's emphasis on undersea warfare is growing, but too slowly for many experts. Today, the Indian navy's submarine fleet - India's "silent service" - is beset with numerous problems and delays.

In China, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) shows no sign of backing off its plans to gradually increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. This influx of Chinese naval vessels does not pose an immediate threat to India's national security, but the situation could change.

Russia, however, may wield considerable influence over the flow of events. While Russia continues to serve as a vital cog in the vast

 

machinery that is driving the PLAN's construction and development of a modern submarine fleet, American submarine historian and expert Norman Polmar sees ample evidence that Russia is selling India better undersea systems than those it is selling China.

"China, unlike India, is a natural enemy of Russia, and despite China's distrust of Russia, the Chinese deal with the Russians because the Russians possess submarine and antisubmarine technologies that the Chinese want," said Polmar. "This is solely an economic relationship involving China as a customer whereas the Russian's longstanding military assistance relationship with India is based on a need to sustain both its economic and geopolitical bonds that Russia deems very important to its overall security."

At the same time, the US decision to sell India sophisticated anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft known as P-8 India (P-8I) is significant as well in terms of countering any Chinese sub activities in the Indian Ocean. Although US Defense Secretary Robert Gates might have a submarine surprise up his sleeve for Indian Defense Minister A K Antony who is currently in Washington for talks, this seems unlikely given the current restrictions on high-tech exports to India.

"Keep in mind that in the P-8I aircraft, India is getting an ASW platform from the US, not comprehensive and advanced ASW systems such as sonar, or magnetic anomaly detectors," said Polmar.

China is well aware that India has another option at its disposal. Polmar agrees that India could quickly adopt and update the naval aviation strategy that the Soviet Union devised in the 1950s. By adding several 21st-century refinements and technological advancements - the P-8I takes India in that direction - India's degree of control over the Indian Ocean could be reinforced considerably, far surpassing what the Soviets achieved in the Western Pacific and elsewhere.

The naval aviation model looms large because India has only 16 submarines today, including 10 Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines; four German Shishukumar-class subs; and two Russian Foxtrot subs which are used primarily for training purposes.

In June, India signed a US$80 million contract with Russia's Zvezdochka shipyard for the fifth in a series of overhauls and upgrades of its Kilo subs. This overhaul commenced in August. [1]

Then in July, the Indian government allocated US$11 billion (over 500 billion rupees) for the development of six next-generation diesel submarines under Project-75 India (P-75I). With their air independent propulsion systems, these new subs will offer major operational advantages, and much to Pakistan's chagrin in particular, they are envisioned as stealthy, land attack subs.

"India's submarine force has declined because a good number of older subs will be retiring very soon - the Kilos start retiring in 2013, for example - and an insufficient number of newer subs have been acquired to replace them," said Dr Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

"India's submarine fleet remains a coastal fleet because of a lack of nuclear-powered subs, and its reach is limited because the missiles on these subs have limited range. Finally, the focus of the Indian navy's attention also appears to be on large surface ships rather than submarines, which is hindering development of the sub fleet."

In mid-2009, India launched a nuclear sub, the INS Arihant. It is currently designated as an Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), and it is undergoing sea trials. If all goes well, Arihant might be transferred to the Indian navy by the end of 2011. Plans call for two more ATVs with a goal of building five or six new nuclear subs. It is still unclear whether these ATVs are nuclear strategic missile subs (SSBNs) or simply nuclear - powered attack subs (SSNs). (See India's nuclear submarine plan surfaces, Asia Times Online, Feb 20, 2009).

"Some estimates suggest that if India is to maintain an effective nuclear triad [from air, land and sea], India would need at least a fleet of 24 subs, though this is likely out of India's reach,' said Rajagopalan. "Meanwhile, a Russian nuclear-powered Akula II SSN - the K-152 Nerpa - has departed Russia for India under a 10-year lease." [2]

Absent any replacements or additions to its existing fleet, the most upbeat assessment is that India's sub fleet could be reduced to around nine by 2014 or 2015. In fact, the Indian navy has already notified the government that there is strong possibility that only nine subs might be in service by 2012, and just five in the coming years. No matter which projection proves to be accurate, the result is still a single digit total.

India is in the process of getting six Scorpene subs from the French - with an option of six additional subs - to be built at the Mazagon facility in Mumbai under the supervision of French technicians, but this procurement is experiencing a slowdown. Mazagon Docks in Mumbai will construct three of the six, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd in Visakhapatnam will construct one, and the other two may be procured from foreign sources or built by another private shipyard in India

"The delivery of the first of the French Scorpenes, which was supposed to enter service in December 2012, has been delayed. Antony addressed this situation in parliament only a few weeks back. This will clearly impact upon India's undersea force levels," said Rajagopalan. "India has about 35 private shipyards, of which L&T [Larsen & Toubro Ltd] and Pipavav are believed to be competing to build the two submarines, of the six planned."

Some doubt that these two will be built in India after all.

India must focus on meeting its planned timetable for new submarine deployments to avoid critical challenges in the next decade. Among those who argue for submarines, there have been disagreements over whether to pursue nuclear-powered or conventional submarines. In fact, under the original P-75I program, there was a 30-year Submarine Construction Plan approved in 1999.

"Internal disagreements within the navy, however, have substantially undermined that plan. The fact that last two naval chiefs were naval aviators who did not appear to have great interest in allocating limited available funding for sub programs did not help matters," said Rajagopalan.

According to some reports, once Antony became defense minister in 2006, all the decisions relating to the nuclear triad were put on hold. Antony reportedly was of the opinion that decisions involving India's strategic nuclear program should be taken by the Prime Minister's Office. In the process, there was little or no real progress concerning any additional SSNs and SSBNs.

"Dr VK Saraswat, director general of India's Defense Research and Development Organization [DRDO] is of the view that SSNs can be developed easily once DRDO gets the go-ahead. He had noted that the essential difference is the weaponry and accordingly the size, but the technology for design and integration remains the same," said Rajagopalan. "Meanwhile, the Indian Atomic Energy Commission is continuing with its work on nuclear steam reactors for the ATVs which are powered by light-water reactors using enriched uranium as fuel."

Continued 1 2  


India steals a march on the high sea (Mar 12, '10)

China's navy sails past India's dock
(Oct 21, '09)

 

 
 



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