Thursday, February 27, 2014

Indian Submarine fleet is not only vulnerable, it is not even enough

Hussain Saqib

The Indian Chief of Naval Staff has resigned after a recent incident on board INS Sindhuratna, a Russian-built conventional submarine in Indian Navy. He is being hailed for a graceful exit but he did not quit for nothing; the challenges faced by Indian Navy under his watch, and particularly its submarine fleet, are enormous. The fleet is not only unsafe, it is depleting faster than expected raising alarm bells. Indian defense planners are genuinely worried about Navy’s combat capabilities with a fleet which would be as big as Pakistan’s in a period of two years. India’s global ambitions to serve its own interests and those of the US, in Indian Ocean and the Pacific have been completely ruined.

Indian Navy has two major issues which expose it to severe risks; its safety record is very poor with at least 10 mishaps reported in the last seven months, and its fleet is depleting fasted than expected. This is something which has worried India’s defense bosses and they have expressed their unease very clearly.
According to a report by NDTV, there were 10 incidents in Indian Navy in the last seven months. These incidents included fire on board and casualties. These incidents are; death of 18 sailors after explosion, fire on submarine INS Sindhurakshak in August, 2013, when the sub was docked at a high-security dockyard in Mumbai. The vessel tilted and sank nose-down. The fire on country’s only aircraft carrier INS Viraat in September and other incident damaging subs and ships are numerous.

India’s defense planners have projected that the Indian Navy's submarine force levels will be the lowest in its history by 2015. This is in the backdrop of China’s scaling up its underwater capabilities, says a secret report of the ministry leaked by Hindustan Times. According to this report, Indian Navy will be left with merely six to seven submarines, including India's first and only nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine INS Arihant, as it begins phasing out the Russian Kilo class and German HDW Type 209 submarines next year. The report warned India had "never before been poised in such a vulnerable situation" and the undersea force levels were "at a highly precarious state".

Indian Navy currently operates 14 submarines, including a nuclear-powered attack submarine leased from Russia. However, the "viable strength" of its submarine arm is much less, factoring in the operational availability of the boats. As against this, China operates close to 45 submarines, including two ballistic missile submarines. China may plan to construct 15 additional Yuan-class attack submarines, based on German diesel engine purchases. Yuan-class boats could be equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems to recharge their batteries without having to surface for more than three weeks, a capability currently unavailable with the Indian Navy. The ministry is genuinely worried that if undersea capability is eroded, there is an inverse increase in both capability and strength of the Chinese and Pakistani navies.