The navy appears to be focusing on efforts to strengthen its undersea warfare capabilities to counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet. The main thrust of Admiral Robin Dhowan’s maiden visit to Vizag as navy chief is expected to be the refit of an attack submarine leased from Russia and deterrent patrols to be launched by India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine.
Dhowan’s two-day visit to the Vizag-based Eastern Naval Command (ENC) is seen as significant as the nuclear-powered submarine, INS Chakra, is set for a three-month refit, two years after the navy inducted the Akula-II class attack vessel. It is on a 10-year lease from Russia for almost Rs. 6,000 crore.
India, however, will complete its nuclear triad (ability to launch strategic weapons from land, air and sea) only when it inducts the indigenous ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant. INS Chakra cannot deliver nuclear warheads in its current configuration.
The navy currently operates 13 submarines, compared to the 50-plus boats in the Chinese fleet. While Chinese submarines are growing in numbers and sophistication, India is grappling with an ageing fleet that has been involved in a number of mishaps.
A source said that Dhowan asked naval dockyards to take pride in maintaining older platforms to meet demanding resource challenges. He warned officers against mediocrity and asked them to take every incident seriously.
Dhowan is expected to take stock of the Scorpene project during an upcoming visit to the Mumbai-based Western Naval Command. Six Scorpene submarines are being built at the Mazagon Dock Ltd with technology from French firm DCNS under a Rs. 23,562-crore project codenamed P-75. But the first of these boats will be ready only by 2016-17, almost five years behind schedule.
Another priority for Dhowan would be to push the new government to speed up the acquisition of six new submarines under a Rs. 55,000-crore project codenamed P-75I.