Indian navy a formidable regional naval power is in-charge of keeping a privy eye over some of the most contested waters in the Asian region. Changing geopolitical situation and increased enemy naval footprint close to its territorial waters has led the navy towards a path of rapid modernization.
India has enjoyed traditional control over sea lanes of communication which are considered trade highways between the west and east. Also the Indian navy has ambit control over several strategic choke-points along these sea lanes. A naval blockade imposed up-on one of these points will choke hostile Eastern countries off their essential supplies.
To enforce a fool-proof naval blockade any navy has to posses three main assets – Surface and under-water combatants and aerial platforms. The Indian navy under its command has 140 front-line battleships which it aims to gradually boost close to 200 by 2025. The navy under its command has some of the most advanced and capable surface and aerial platforms.
The navy also operates thirteen conventionally powered and a single nuclear powered attack submarine. Given the maritime responsibility the navy has this number falls well short of forming a formidable force in countering hostile intentions let alone imposing any blockades.
Submarines are some of the most complex war machines ever built and are centric to the naval posture of a maritime nation. With their stealth they provide unmatched control over hostile waters and are instrumental assets in naval warfare. No other platform can perform as efficiently as submarines in ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) operations. Nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines have helped countries realize dreams of second strike capabilities.
For India submarines are critical to guard its vast coastline and to sanitize waters along its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The need has only been compounded given the navy’s increasing area of operations. Nuclear powered attack submarines or SSN’s remain the need of the hour to escort Carrier Battle Group (CBG)’s. The country in an effort to establish credible second strike platform is also pursuing programs to induct SSBN’s or boomers at the earliest.
Backbone to India’s under-water forces are the Russian built Kilo-class or Sindhughosh-class SSK submarines which has an endurance of around 45 days. These capable platforms are termed the ‘Black Holes of deep seas’ and are lethal combatants in littoral waters. Displacing around 3,000 tonnes these subs can strike land-based and surface targets with their Klub missiles. The submarines are also equipped with torpedoes to neutralize any submerged threats.
The Shishumar-class or Type-209 submarines built by German-based HDW in partnership with MDSL form a key part of India’s silent forces. The navy under its command has 4 of these capable subs which displace around 1,700 tonnes. The submarines have an endurance of 50 days and are instrumental in anti-shipping operations. They carry the Boeing designed Harpoon AShM missiles as their primary armament.
India also operates a single Akula-class SSN submarine under its Eastern Naval Command (ENC). Cherished INS Chakra this cold-war era nuclear submarine was leased from Russia in 2012. The submarine has been instrumental in providing Indian crews a deeper insight into the operations and capabilities of a nuclear submarine.
The navy has been engaging Indian shipyards to boost the depleting numbers of under-water combatants. However it has met with very limited success given the complex technology that goes on-board to design a silent and lethal submarine.
Indian Navy in 2005 launched the P-75 program to induct six conventionally powered submarines. After a gruelling evaluation process the navy opted for the DCNS designed Scorpene submarines. DCNS is currently building these submarines in partnership with Mumbai-based MDSL.
The program though initially delayed has now caught up pace and is steering towards success. INS Kalvari first of the six submarines is expected to be inducted by November, 2016. The remaining submarines are expected to be delivered in a time gap of nine months each.
The Scorpene has an endurance of around 50 days and are equipped with Exocet AShM missiles. The submarines once inducted will be based at INS Kadamba, Karwar and will be centric to all future operations of the navy.
Another program the navy is actively pursuing is the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project. Floated to equip the country with a second strike platform it has witnessed unmatched indigenous efforts. The navy envisions to build at least four boomers each of which are equipped with SLBM’s having a range of at least 3,500 KM.
INS Arihant, first of the four SSBNs, has satisfactorily completed all trails and awaits induction to the force. The submarine displaces around 6,000 tonnes and is dubbed ‘baby boomer’. In its hull are the K-15 ‘Sagarika’ and K-4 SLBMs which have a range of 750 KM and 3,500+ KM respectively. Very little information is available about the program ever since its inception. The induction of these submarines will complete India’s nuclear triad guaranteeing the country unmatched deterrence in this nuclear-era.
Futuristic approach relying on indigenous technology has been the motto Indian Navy has followed in its procurement process. India has cleared decks for the P-75I program to induct six more conventionally powered submarines. The program is a follow-up to the P-75 project and is expected to be finalized in the near future.
Competition to supply India with the latest submarine is stiff. France based DCNS with its Scorpene submarines is considered to be leading the fray. German-based HDW and Sweden-based Saab with its ‘A26 submarine’ are expected to give a stiff competition to DCNS.
Apart from the P-75I program the navy has only recently launched a program to procure at least six SSN submarines. SSN’s are the most advanced and silent submarines. India given its progress with the ‘ATV Project’ aims to build these SSNs in-house with minimal foreign help.
These projects after completion promise to provide India with at least 18 highly capable submarines. The success of these programs remains to be India’s sailing course towards maintaining its naval dominance in the region. The induction of these submarines will provide India with a formidable force to counter the increasing naval presence of its hostile neighbours.
© Karthik Kakoor