24 Submarines in 30 Years?

In the last 23 years, the Indian Navy has acquired just two submarines apart from one nuclear-powered submarine leased from Russia. The Indian Navy is likely to issue a RFP for six submarines very soon.

Issue: 2 / 2013By Lt General (Retd) Naresh Chand

The inherent design of submarines provides them stealth, endurance, freedom of movement, flexibility and lethality which give them the advantage of operating at sea, even against a superior enemy. Submarines are the least visible of all naval assets which makes them highly secretive in action providing them the advantage of surprise. They fulfill many different roles like command of the sea which involves sea control, sea denial and maritime projection. They are also being designed to operate in the littorals and induct/de-induct special forces. Due to stealth, submarines are able to patrol the world’s oceans even in hostile territory to carry out reconnaissance, surveillance and gather intelligence. Apart from the sea, they can carry out surveillance on land and air. During war, submarines are crucial in controlling the seas by detecting and destroying hostile submarines and surface ships, carrying out blockade of foreign ports and restrict fleet of the merchant navy. They are able to detect and lay mines more efficiently than any other navy vessel. Submarines provide a means to land special forces in hostile regions, and if armed with suitable weapons, are able to strike land targets. They really run silent and run deep.

The Indian Navy had a strength of about 20 submarines in the 1980s, which included INS Chakra, a nuclear-powered submarine on lease from Russia. Since then the submarine strength has declined to 14 due to obsolescence and lack of fresh inductions. This may further fall to six to eight till 2017, subject to all refits and acquisitions are carried as per schedule. The existing boats include four HDW/IKL designed submarines inducted between 1986 and 1994, and 10 Kilo class double-decked boats acquired from Russia between 1986 and 2000. In the last 23 years, the Indian Navy has acquired just two submarines apart from one nuclear-powered submarine again leased from Russia. As it is not weaponised due to MTCR, it is meant more for training and experience before INS Arihant is inducted into service.

Submarine-launched cruise missile

India has successfully tested the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos from underwater in the Bay of Bengal on March 20. BrahMos CEO A. Sivathanu Pillai stated that “the submarine-launched version of BrahMos was successfully test-fired from an underwater pontoon near Visakhapatnam. He added that the missile travelled its complete range of over 290 km and the performance of the missile during the test launch was perfect. BrahMos missile is fully ready for fitment in submarines in vertical launch configuration which will make the platform one of the most powerful weapon platforms in the world”. BrahMos cruise missile is a joint venture of India and Russia and is supersonic at a top speed of Mach 2.8. Other submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) in service are the Russian P-700 Granit with a range of 550-625 km, the US Navy’s Tomahawk with many versions having a range of 1,300-2,500 km, and closer home, Pakistan’s Babur with a range of 700 km. Naval version of BrahMos is ready but where is the platform?

Indian Navy’s 30-Year Submarine Perspective Plan

In the late 1990s, Naval Headquarters started taking stock of their current and future submarine force levels required to counter the developing security environment. The end result was the 30-year Submarine Perspective Plan which was the Navy’s blueprint for sustainment and augmentation for the present and future submarine force level. The plan, besides many other recommendations, suggested two indigenous production lines for two different designs of submarines. The plan envisaged a gap free transition from the phasing out of the existing Shishumar and Sindhughosh classes of submarines with induction of fresh acquisitions.

During November 2002, the 30-year plan was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) and resulted in the birth of Project 75 and Project 75-I, which are two distinct submarine designs, to be built simultaneously. Project 75 was to take shape at the Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) and for Project 75-I, a suitable public/private shipyard was to be selected. It is understood that the Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), Visakhapatnam, had been selected. HSL is a private shipyard which was nationalised in 1961 and transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2009. The HSL is in proximity to where INS Arihant is being constructed and is also involved in the refit of submarines. However, HSL has not been able to deliver as the refit of Sindhukriti was to be completed in 2010, but now the likely date of completion is 2015. It is understood that the Indian Navy has already paid more than Rs. 600 crore for it. Sindhukriti is a Kiloclass submarine of Russian origin and the refit was to be jointly done with Rosonboronexport and the Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam. In any case, Indian shipyards have to relearn submarine building process as the one acquired with HDW was lost due to the shortsighted policy of the then Indian Government which prematurely cancelled the project due to charges of corruption.

Project 75

In 2005, India finalised the deal with DCNS, France, for building six Scorpene class diesel submarines at the Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) at a cost of about $3.5 billion. The contract included extensive transfer of technology (ToT) and the possible acquition of another six submarines. Regrettably, even more than seven years after signing the deal, Project 75 has yet not yielded a single submarine. The original delivery dates were between 2012 and 2017, for the delivery of six submarines. DCNS remained committed to the original delivery dates but had to bow to fait accompli and the revised delivery schedule is from 2015-18. It is hoped that there are no slippages beyond 2018. The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on air-independent propulsion (AIP) system which permits a submarine to operate without the need to surface or use a snorkel to acquire oxygen from the atmosphere. AIP does not include nuclear propulsion which allows submarines to theoretically operate submerged indefinitely. AIP is to replace/augment the diesel-electric propulsion system of nonnuclear vessels. For some reason, India did not include AIP in the Scorpene contract when Pakistan had inducted submarines with AIP. ‘If’ DRDO is successful then the last two Scorpene submarines will have AIP system. This will be done by installing plugs which will have the same diameter as the submarine but Admiral Joshi has indicated that if there are slippages, then they will not wait for the DRDO’s AIP to fructify. The slippages in delivery has already escalated the cost to about $4.6 billion which is an increase of about 25 per cent from the original cost.