Indian Navy’s Capability Perspective

In long-term defence planning, there are always slippages in terms of time, technology and funds. The wish list of a service may not match with the ground realities and thus the gap between plan and implementation will always be there. It is thus fervently hoped that the force levels as per MCPP fructifies.

Issue: 01-2012 By Lt General (Retd) Naresh Chand

The Indian Navy’s perspective-planning in terms of ‘force-levels’ is now driven by a conceptual shift from ‘numbers’ of platforms to one that concentrates upon ‘capabilities’. Accordingly, the Indian Navy had drawn out a key document titled, ‘The Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP)’ that emphasised on capability building rather than numbers. The MCPP lays down the plans for force development and modernisation over three plan periods from 2005-22. The aim is to build a three-dimensional force that is able to meet all future challenges. CNS Admiral Nirmal Verma had said during the last Navy Day briefing that the Indian Navy will look like a “brand new” force by 2027 with a combatant level of 150-odd warships and another 500-odd aircraft fleet. It is also planning to add 49 new warships and submarines in the next few years that are on order from both Indian and foreign shipyards.

At present, the Indian Navy has 132 ships including 14 submarines and 216 aircraft, of which 80 are fixed wing, 122 helicopters and 14 unmanned aerial vehicles. Normally, in long-term defence planning, there are always slippages in terms of time, technology and funds. The wish list of a service may not match with the ground realities and thus the gap between plan and implementation will always be there. However, in India, the gap always remains very large. It is thus fervently hoped that the force levels as per MCPP fructifies.

Likely Force Accretions and other Developments in 2012

Nuclear powered submarines
India is trying hard to become a regional power for which it needs a nuclear triad. A nuclear triad consists of a nuclear arsenal which is based on land, sea and air. Such a configuration reduces the chances of destruction of the complete national nuclear arsenal in a single strike thereby ensuring a second strike capability and also provides a degree of deterrence. This is very relevant in India’s strategy of no first strike. It also has longer reach and flexibility in employment. A nuclear triad is very expensive to acquire and maintain, thus only three countries i.e. US, Russian Federation and China, have it, and now India is trying to muscle in this exclusive club. The essential components of a nuclear triad are:

  • Land-based medium-range ballistic missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles.
  • Nuclear powered submarines carrying nuclear ballistic missiles.
  • Bombers capable of delivering nuclear tipped bombs or missiles. The bombers can be based on land or an aircraft carrier.

There are two major components of the sea-based triad i.e. a nuclear powered submarine and a nuclear tipped ballistic missile. At present India has none, but it hopes to acquire them in the near future. Currently, it is building its own nuclear powered submarines and also leasing one from Russia to acquire experience.

Leased submarine from Russia: India has been toying with the concept of a nuclear triad since the 1980s when it leased a Charlie class nuclear powered cruise missile submarine from 1988 to 1991 from Russia, to acquire experience in nuclear powered submarines. It was named INS Chakra. India then contracted to lease another nuclear powered Akula-II class submarine from Russia, as all the personnel trained on INS Chakra would have retired. This will be also be named INS Chakra and will come without any armament, and will be used for training as a precursor to the commissioning of Arihant. The leased Russian nuclear submarine is likely to arrive in India by early 2012, after a three-year delay. It was to be delivered on a 10-year lease for about $920 million ( Rs. 4,600 crore) by 2009, but a fire in the submarine that killed 20 sailors during trials in 2008, has contributed to the delay. However, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow in December, he was assured by the Russians that the submarine is all ready to set sail for India. Unconfirmed media reports state that India may be leasing two submarines with an option of buying them later and arming them in India to circumspect the Missile Technology Control Regime.

Advanced Technology Vehicle programme: India launched its Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) programme in 1974 and it has taken about three decades to show some results. The main hurdle was the sensitive nuclear technology involved which is very difficult to get from abroad and the high cost of such ventures. Russia has been of great help including their earlier leasing of a nuclear powered submarine, but with sanctions in place after the 1998 nuclear tests, India had to do it all alone. Finally, India launched its first nuclear powered submarine, INS Arihant, on July 26, 2009, which is a 6,000-tonne submarine with a length of 110 metres and a breadth of 11 metres. Unconfirmed reports claim that it can carry 12 Sagarika K15 SLBMs which have a range of about 700 km in four silos. K15 is in the advance stages of development with the DRDO which is also developing a SLBM version of Agni-III numbered K-4. Four of these missiles can be carried in place of K15 which will have a much longer range than Sagarika. It is also understood that India plans to have three SSBNs and six SSNs in the near future. 2012 is a good year for nuclear powered submarines as INS Arihant has completed harbour acceptance trials (HAT) and is to undergo sea acceptance trials (SAT) during 2012 which will be the accomplishment of a major milestone. An effective second-strike capability is mainly dependent on having nuclear-powered submarines, armed with SLBMs. INS Arihant is thus crucial to India’s nuclear deterrence doctrine which is based on “no-first use” policy. Media reports also indicate that the work on second indigenous nuclear submarine named INS Aridhaman is in full swing and work on the third submarine, S3, will start soon.

As per Wikileaks, Pakistan is having more nuclear warheads than India; and China is way ahead with 240 warheads. Pakistan does not have a nuclear powered submarine but China has 10 out of a submarine fleet of 62, with three of them being SSBNs. India, on the other hand, has just 15 conventional diesel-electric submarines which are ageing. India, thus needs to get its ‘nuclear avatar’ sooner than later to prevent arm twisting by China.

Conventional Submarines

The Indian Navy has also formulated a 30-year Submarine Perspective Plan for augmenting and sustaining a submarine force level. The plan envisaged, among things, two separate indigenous production lines which could build submarines of two different origins/designs. The delivery schedule of the new submarines was to be dovetailed with the phasing out of the existing Shishumar and Sindhughosh classes of submarines, to that the minimum submarine force levels was always available. The two distinct submarine designs were christened as Project 75 and Project 75(I). While the former was to utilise the infrastructure available at Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), another shipyard was to be identified and developed for the second production line. Project 75 Scorpene is progressing at MDL, although with many delays.

RFI and RFP under Project 75I: India issued a request for information (RFI) under Project 75I in 2008 for procuring of six AIP equipped submarines with high degree of stealth and land-attack capability. Project 75I will follow Project 75, acquire six Scorpene submarines and is expected to cost about $10 billion ( Rs. 50,000 crore) (current estimates are $ 11.10 billion- Rs. 55,500 crore). Like the Scorpenes, Project 75I submarines are also to be built at an Indian shipyard, public or private, with special emphasis on full transfer of technology. As reported during July 2010 that the Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, had decided that three of the six submarines will be constructed at MDL in Mumbai and one at the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL in Visakhapatnam, with the help of a foreign collaborator). The other two will be imported or built at a private shipyard. Request for proposal (RFP) was likely to be issued at the end of 2011. However, it is likely to be issued in 2012 after four years of issue of RFI. The likely contenders could be Russia’s Rosoboronexport, France’s DCNS, Germany’s HDW and Spain’s Navantia.

Shivalik class frigates of Project 17
The Shivalik class are multi-role frigates with stealth features which are the first warships being built in India with such features. They are planned to be the mainstay frigates of the Indian Navy over the first half of the 21st century. A total of 10 further ships are planned to be built in several batches and at present they are being built at MDL.The first ship of the class, INS Shivalik, was launched on April 19, 2003, and commissioned on April 29, 2010. The ship joined the Eastern Fleet on March 15, 2011. The second ship of the class, INS Satpura, originally expected to be commissioned in November 2010, was commissioned on August 20, 2011, by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Verma. The third ship INS Sahyadri is being fitted at Mazagon Dock Limited and is expected to be commissioned early in 2012.