Indian Navy to muscle up as Pak gets Chinese submarines

Sep 24, 2023 06:45 AM IST

India needs more submarines for coastal protection and deterrence against Pakistan and China.

With Pakistan soon to acquire eight Chinese Yuan class submarines between 2023-2028, pressure has mounted on Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) to conclude a deal for building three additional diesel-electric Kalvari class submarines with French Naval Group this year so that its submarine building capacity (currently 11) does not turn idle by the end of the year.

Kalveri, Shishumar and Sindhugosh class of Indian Navy patrolling in Indian Ocean.
Kalveri, Shishumar and Sindhugosh class of Indian Navy patrolling in Indian Ocean.

MDL is giving finishing touches to last of the six Kalvari (Scorpene) class submarine, INS Vagsheer, before commencement of sea trials, and has begun negotiations with Naval Group for the additional three submarines which will have features that are operation specific and with indigenous torpedos and air independent propulsion (AIP) for longer endurance. It is understood that the heavyweight indigenous torpedo and AIP are currently being tested in France for operational validation.

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As of now Pakistan has one old French Agosta 70 (called PNS Hurmat) and another old and upgraded Agosta 90 B (called PMS Hamza) with French single use MESMA AIP operational . It also has four Yuan class diesel-electric submarines to join this year. The Yuan class submarines will induce a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s sub-surface fleet as the 039 B submarine is equipped with AIP and, possibly, submarine-launched cruise missiles.

For the three additional submarines, MDL is in talks with Naval group so that the new platforms will have much more advanced features than those of the Kalvari class, which were ordered by India in 2005 on the basis of A B Vajpayee government’s 30-year submarine plan in 1999. The three subs, the acceptance of necessity for which were accorded by the Modi government in July, will possibly be seven meters longer than Kalvari class subs if the Navy wants a pure diesel-electric submarine, with additional batteries for staying submerged for longer periods or will be 10 meters long to house the AIP unit designed by DRDO. The new three submarines will have advanced optronics, electronic warfare suites and heavy weight torpedos with a range of 40 kilometers and higher explosive content. The new boats will also have advanced/upgraded SM-39 Exocet missiles with future boats equipped with SCALP 1000 km range submarine-launched cruise missiles. But there is more to this.

With Naval Group signing an MoU this July with MDL to build submarines in Mumbai dockyards to export to other countries, there is much excitement within the yard as through this joint venture India will export Scorpene class submarines to Indonesia, Malaysia and others. Naval Group has also signed an MoU with Kolkata based GRSE to build surface combatants such as destroyers and frigates under a joint venture and export these to third countries. This will ensure that the machine tooling capacity of the two dockyards does not erode for want of work orders.

With India’s submarine force strength going down with ageing Shishumar (HDW) class and Sindughosh (Kilo) class submarines facing spare parts issues on account of Russia’s Ukraine war, the Indian Navy needs more sub-surface combatants to protect its 7500 km coastline as well as pose deterrence threat to Pakistan and China. The Indian Kalvari class ships frequently patrol Pakistan’s Makran coast, some six hours from Mumbai, and were operationally deployed outside Karachi and Gwadar harbor during Operation Balakot in 2019.

While the US Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas told the Malabar partners during 2023 exercise off the coast of Sydney that the US expects a military emergency in Taiwan in 2027, the Indian Navy is quite clear that Chinese patrols or carrier-based strike force with nuclear powered conventionally armed submarines will start patrolling the Indian Ocean by 2025-2026. It is for this very reason that India’s indigenous submarine building capacity needs to be promoted, say experts, adding that as it is the lynchpin of PM Narendra Modi’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat” plan in defence and security.

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    Author of Indian Mujahideen: The Enemy Within (2011, Hachette) and Himalayan Face-off: Chinese Assertion and Indian Riposte (2014, Hachette). Awarded K Subrahmanyam Prize for Strategic Studies in 2015 by Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) and the 2011 Ben Gurion Prize by Israel.

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