Submarine – The Force Multiplier

With the commissioning of INS Arihant the country’s nuclear triad is in place with the second strike capability

Issue: 5-2021 By Admiral Sunil Lanba (Retd)Photo(s): By MDL, DPR Defence
Indian Navy’s Scorpene INS Kalvari
The author is former Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of Indian Navy. During his tenure as the CNS, he also served as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He retired on May 31, 2019. The Admiral is currently the Chairman of National Maritime Foundation.

 

The Indo-Pacific region is emerging as the global centre of gravity, whether in terms of economic interaction, demographics, transnational security challenges or the strategic balance. Unhindered flow of maritime trade the region is one of the primary security concerns. The region’s critical role as the prime mover of global economic progress makes it a strategically important agenda for all. The current flux in China, USA relations and a historic power shift in Asia is compelling states to rethink their strategy. The Indo-Pacific also emphasises the increasingly vital role of the Indian Ocean (and the maritime arena more broadly) as both a conduit for global trade and an emerging arena of competition.

The fortunes of a Nation are largely determined by its geographic location. India enjoys unfettered access to the Indian Ocean with the subcontinent jutting 2,000nm into the IOR astride important SLOC. It facilitates reach, sustenance and mobility of our maritime forces, thereby giving us an ability to effectively influence this maritime space. The Nation thus need to invest in development of holistic maritime capabilities. The Navy has been investing in capability development in all the dimensions, in the air, on the surface and underwater. The first of the new Project 15B destroyer INS Vishakhapatnam has just been delivered by MDL to the Navy. In the underwater domain the Navy has a fleet of both conventional and nuclear submarines. A modern submarine is a multirole platform with its primary mission being of Sea Denial. They can conduct both overt and covert operations. An ideal platform for surveillance and information gathering operations off hostile shores. They also have the capability to address targets ashore with Land Attack Missiles.

Current Programmes

In 1999 the Government approved a 30 year programme for a force of 24 conventional submarines for the Navy. This has now been modified to 18 conventional plus six nuclear powered (SSN) boats. The submarine building plan consisted of, six Project 75, followed by six Project 75(I) and six Project 76 conventional submarines. The plan was to build capability through Project 75 and 75(I) by transfer of technology to be able to design and build submarine. Project 76 is to be an Indian designed submarine. Both Project 75(I) and Project 76 are to be with AIP system.

Unfortunately the whole 30 year programme is running behind schedule by about 20 years. Since 1999 the plan has only delivered three Scorpene class submarine of Project 75. The Project 75 is being executed by Mazagaon Dock Limited. The project suffered delay in award and now also in execution of the project by the shipyard and their French partner the Naval Group. Only three of the six submarines have been delivered till date. The balance are in advance stage of fitting out to be delivered by 2023.

A modern submarine is a multi-role platform with its primary mission being of Sea Denial. They can conduct both overt and covert operations. An ideal platform for surveillance and information gathering operations off hostile shores. They also have the capability to address targets ashore with Land Attack Missiles.

Project 75(I) has had its own share of ups and downs. In 2016 the Project was made part of the new Strategic Partnership Model for major projects to be executed by the Private Sector. The SOP for the SP model took over two years to be promulgated. Thereafter a committee was set up to identify shipyards which have the capability to construct submarines. In January 2020 two shipyards L&T and Mazagaon Dock Limited were shortlisted as Indian partners for the project. Five foreign OEM shortlisted for the Project include Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (South Korea), Naval Group (France), Navantia (Spain), Rosoboronexport (Russia) and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (Germany). The Request for Proposal (RFP) has been issued to the shortlisted Strategic Partners MDL and L&T in Jul 2021 with responses due in November 2021. This is too short a period for the Yards, as they have to identify the OEM and thereafter negotiate and submit their bids. The minimum time needed would at least be a years if all goes well. This being the first SP case for a major ship/submarine construction project, the approval process will also take time, which would be followed by signing of the contract. In a best case scenario if the whole process to signing of contract is completed by 2023, the earliest the first submarine may be delivered could be around 2030.

To maintain submarine force level the Navy is undertaking a second Medium Refit and Life Certification (MRLC) to extend the life by about 10 years of both the Kilo and SSK class submarines

To maintain submarine force level the Navy is undertaking a second Medium Refit and Life Certification (MRLC) to extend the life by about 10 years of both the Kilo and SSK class submarines.

Nuclear Submarines

Indian Navy’s Nuclear Submarine INS Arihant

The Indian Navy tryst with nuclear submarine began in the early eighties, when an agreement to lease a SSN for three years was signed with erstwhile USSR. The crew was trained in Vladivostok from 1983 to 1985. The Victor Class boat was commissioned into the Navy in January 1988 as INS Chakra and Indian Navy entered the league of select navies operating a nuclear powered submarine. The boat was returned on completion of her lease in January 1991. The Navy leased a second SSN from Russia, an Akula Class for period of ten years and she was also commissioned as INS Chakra in April 2012. Through these projects the Navy gained the expertise of operating nuclear powered submarines. The requisite infrastructure for training and maintenance was set up at Vishakhapatnam. This stood the Navy in good stead, to have trained personnel and the experience of operation nuclear submarine for the SSBN programme. With the commissioning of INS Arihant the country’s nuclear triad is in place with the second strike capability.

Manufacturing Capability

The Nation has developed two submarine building lines. The conventional submarine have been built by Mazagaon Dockyard at Mumbai. They first built two SSK Type 209 submarines with the help of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany and now they are building six Scorpene class along with Naval Group of France. The nuclear submarine are being constructed by Submarine Building Centre along with L&T. This is a Navy and DRDO project. In my opinion conventional submarines should continue to be built by Mazagaon Dockyard and nuclear powered by SBC along with L&T, there by the nation will continue to have two submarine building lines, which have been set up with a great deal of investment both in development of skilled work force and infrastructure.

Conclusion

The plan of 24 submarines through the 30 year plan need to be given urgent due impetus, with timely approvals and budgetary support to ensure that this vital capability to operate in the underwater domain in our area of interest is operationally available to deploy.