Page 2 of 2 Leaks in India's submarine strategy
By Peter J Brown
According to Dr Bharath Gopalaswamy, a researcher in the Arms Control and
Non-proliferation Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research
Institute, the principal challenge facing India is India's own bureaucracy and
its lack of vision in formulating long term strategic goals.
"The Comptroller and Auditor General's recent report seriously criticized the
Indian navy about its aging fleet - 63% of the subs would be past their
operational life beyond 2012 - and highlighted that due to this aging fleet and
its refit schedules (which has been consistently delayed), the average
operational availability of India's subs is as low as 48%," said Gopalaswamy.
To make matters worse, a test check on certain submarines
revealed that prescribed standards for operational patrol, tactical exercises
and individual work ups were either not in play or loosely followed.
“Piecemeal modernization and upgradation of submarines at an aggregate cost of
1,560 crore rupees [15.6 billion rupees] was undertaken by the navy without
taking approval of the competent financial authority,” the report said. And
according to its findings, most refits were not well managed and seldom
completed within the prescribed time period.
The looming sub gap that India will confront from 2013 to 2016 cannot be
sidestepped. Delaying the retirement of existing subs is a very risky strategy
As India starts to build its own nuclear submarines, very complex construction
programs and prolonged at-sea trials will strain existing resources including
manpower. Building indigenous submarine reactors is one thing, integrating them
into modern undersea battle platforms in another even greater challenge.
Nevertheless, despite enormous obstacles, confidence is running high and the
objectives are deemed achievable in the required timeframe by many Indian naval
Others including Nathan Hughes, director of military analysis at Texas-based
Stratfor a global intelligence company, raise serious questions about the
submarine force which the Indian navy intends to deploy. 
"For all its various interests and challenges, India does not have a competitor
like the US-USSR rivalry of the Cold War that drove massive investment and the
frantic pace of development and competition. There is a certain lack of urgency
to India's drawn out effort to design a nuclear submarine of its own,' said
Hughes. "Russian assistance including leasing nuclear subs to India has been
more direct and overt than Russian-Chinese cooperation, although this is also
quite significant. Indeed, with China working to increase its independence from
Russia and refine its own designs, Moscow may have extra bandwidth in terms of
advising and design assistance and expertise from which India might benefit,"
However, the Indian navy does not now possess a viable submarine-launched
ballistic missile (SLBM), and this gap cannot be dismissed or overlooked. While
the new Arihant-class ATVs may carry Sagarika SLBMs, they may do so only on a
very limited basis.
"Some development work has been done with the Sagarika, but this has been from
a submerged pontoon. Much more work remains for an SLBM to be integrated into a
submarine and made operationally capable, said Hughes. "The only ship of the
Arihant class so far will have only a very limited - if any - capacity for
vertical launch of any kind. She is a technology demonstrator and more ships of
the class will need to be built with modified designs before India fields a
meaningful SSBN capability." 
And while India is planning a Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) variant
of the Brahmos cruise missile with a range of about 300 kilometers or more -
Brahmos was jointly created with Russia - several issues must be addressed and
resolved before this SLCM is deployed on Indian subs.
"Yes, this will likely be the last variant tested and certified. Ground and
surface ship-launched variants have already completed testing, and preparations
are being made for testing of an air-launched version. However, the Brahmos is
simply too big to be fired from the 21-inch [533mm] torpedo tubes used by
India's current sub fleet, but the 25.6-inch [650 mm] tubes of the Nerpa would
be sufficient in theory to do so," said Hughes. "Other submarines India might
acquire from Russia might also be tailored to carry a vertically-launched
Otherwise, it is unclear if the recently leased Russian Nerpa sub is going to
have Indian or Russian cruise missiles aboard.
"The inclusion of the RK-55 Granat [SS-N-21 Sampson], a medium-range
land-attack cruise missile, is not likely. The inclusion of the 3M-54 Klub
[SS-N-27] short-range anti-ship cruise missile is more likely, but also
uncertain,' said Hughes. "It is not clear if Indian armaments might be fitted."
Regardless of weaponry, the Indian navy needs place more emphasis on simply
getting its submariners aboard their subs for longer periods of time at sea,
according to John Pike, director of Virginia-based GlobalSecurity.org.
"Submarines are more difficult to operate than surface ships, and this requires
more time at sea to remain proficient. India has had an easier time mapping out
ambitious plans than in actual implementation, and an easier time putting
submarines into service than in keeping them in service," said Pike. "Delays
and other problems have been the rule not the exception over past decades, so
this seems to be business as usual. India's naval programs, like so many other
Indian military acquisition efforts, are remarkably leisurely."
From the standpoint of flexibility, while India seems to be relying on French
and Russian submarine purchases thus far, these countries do not enjoy a
preferred supplier status.
"India might turn to Germany, and possibly eventually to South Korea," said
Pike. "If Japan started exporting subs, it might also export aircraft
Pike sees little chance that Japan will start exporting subs to India or any
other country for that matter anytime soon, however. Other experts agree.
Japanese submarines are for Japanese use only.
Regardless, India cannot hold its breath and wait to see what does or does not
happen in Kobe, where Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd is concentrating its
submarine construction activities. As India focuses its attention on China
instead, it must realize at the same time that some prefer to depict China as
totally unprepared to churn the waters of the Indian Ocean.
"China poses no naval threat to India either on the surface or beneath the
surface of the Indian Ocean. China is not seeking a naval confrontation with
India there for a variety of reasons despite much talk of China's 'string of
pearls' strategy involving its development of port facilities in countries
surrounding India," said Polmar. "China does not intend to try and outmatch the
Indian navy in India's own backyard. China wants access to vital resources, not
a series of unwanted engagements at sea. China is simply not prepared for any
heated naval engagements so far from its coast at this time."
In a nutshell, India must forge balanced submarine and anti-submarine programs,
and inject them with the same energy and enthusiasm that has propelled its
space program. India must also define what it expects from a true 21st-century
submarine fleet. Sustained dependence on legacy undersea systems seems out of
Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from Maine USA.