With the navy's submarine force levels slated to reach their lowest ever by 2015, defence minister AK Antony on Tuesday acknowledged limitations in the country's ability to deploy its entire fleet.
The 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.
"There are some operational constraints regarding conventional submarines," Antony said, in his address to the navy's top commanders.
As reported first by HT on April 9, a confidential defence ministry report had warned that India had never before been poised in such a vulnerable situation and its undersea force levels were "at a highly precarious state."
In contrast to India's humble fleet, China operates close to 45 submarines, including two ballistic missile submarines. It also plans to construct 15 additional Yuan-class attack submarines, based on German diesel engine purchases.
The size of India's submarine fleet will roughly be the same as that of the Pakistani Navy in two years.
By 2015, the 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.
Antony said, "Funds will never be a constraint for capital acquisition, but must be utilized judiciously."
The navy has asked the government to float a global tender immediately to acquire six next-generation subs worth Rs. 55,000 crore under a project called P-75I.
Shipbuilders DCNS of France, HDW of Germany, Rosoboronexport of Russia and Navantia of Spain are expected to make a beeline for that order.
Six Scorpene submarines are currently being built at the Mazagon Dock Ltd in Mumbai with technology from French firm DCNS under a Rs. 23,562-crore project codenamed P-75.
The first of these boats, however, will not be ready for induction before 2016-17, although originally it should have been commissioned into the navy last year.
India's underwater edge is getting blunted at a time when an increasing number of Chinese submarines are venturing into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), posing a danger to the country's security interests, the classified document said.
In a first, top officials from other naval commands joined in the discussions through videoconferencing.