The Indian Navy may have been portrayed as an aggressor in the latest incident of snooping on two Chinese warships in the Gulf of Aden, but it were the Chinese submarines that quietly carried out the maximum number of patrols far away from their bases last year.
The Hong Kong-based daily claimed on Monday that an Indian Kilo class submarine was trying to obtain crucial naval data from Chinese destroyers before it was forced to surface. But the Indian Navy denied the incident.
Chinese attack submarines sailed on more patrols in 2008 than ever before, according to information obtained by Federation of American Scientists, an American think tank, from US naval intelligence.
The FAS has said in its latest report that a Chinese fleet of over 50 attack submarines conducted 12 patrols in 2008, twice the number of patrols conducted in 2007. The sudden increase in patrols assumes significance considering that the Chinese submarine fleet conducted no patrols in 2005 and only two a year later.
A senior Indian navy official said, "The Chinese have made significant leaps in terms of building their underwater capabilities. We are still laggards in that arena." India, with its 16 conventional diesel-electric submarines, is hardly any match for the 54 attack submarines in the Chinese fleet.
Worse, not even half of the Indian Navy's ageing submarine fleet is operationally ready to wage war. The Comptroller and Auditor General revealed last year that the average operational availability of the submarines was just 48 per cent due to the ageing fleet and prolonged refit schedules. The navy holds just 67 per cent of the force level envisaged in its 1985 plan.
"It goes to the Navy's credit if it can play peek-a-boo in international waters with its limited resources," said another official.
China continues to work relentlessly to enhance its underwater capabilities, including nuclear counterattack. The first of its new Jin-class (Type-094) SSBN (nuclear submarine armed with ballistic missiles) was discovered in February 2008 on Hainan Island and three more are said to be under construction.
The Indian Navy is trying to catch up. Aside from the six Scorpene submarines being build at Mazagon Docks for Rs 18,798-crore, the navy is planning to float a global tender this year for six more. It is also acquiring an Akula-class nuclear submarine on long-term lease from Russia this year in a deal worth some Rs 2,600 crore.