The accident on board Russian-built INS Sindhuratna comes at time when the Indian Navy is grappling with fast deteriorating underwater force levels.
The navy is projected to lose its sub-sea superiority against Pakistan over the next two years. Also, it is nowhere close to China in terms of its submarine fleet.
The Indian Navy currently operates 12 submarines. However, the “viable strength” of India’s submarine arm is much less, factoring in the operational availability of the boats.
By 2015, the force will be left with merely five to six submarines as it begins phasing out the Russian Kilo-class and German HDW Type 209 submarines.
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The size of India’s submarine fleet will roughly be the same as that of the Pakistani Navy in two years. The Pakistan Navy has a fleet of five to six submarines.
China currently operates more than 50 submarines and has chalked out plans to build 15 additional Yuan-class attack submarines.
Even as China scales up its underwater capabilities swiftly, Indian navy’s submarine force levels would be at its lowest in history by 2015, as reported by HT last April, quoting from a confidential defence ministry report. The report had then warned India had “never before been poised in such a vulnerable situation” and the undersea force levels were “at a highly precarious state.”
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“As this critical (undersea) capability is eroded, there is an inverse increase in both capability and strength of the Chinese and Pakistani navies,” the report warned. 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. But the first of these boats will not be ready before 2016-17.
In the wake of the recent accidents, the defence ministry may ask the navy to carry out a “safety stand-down,” a designated time for crews to focus on safety-related matters and training to deal with the daunting challenge of reducing mishaps.
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