Mumbai. The Indian Navy holds a fine record of operating submarines
including the nuclear-propelled missile fitted Charlie K-73 INS Chakra (1987-91)
from the late 60s, but its submarine strength has waxed and waned for one reason
or the other.
The Navy has come under criticism recently by the
Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India for allowing the operational state
of submarines to fall to 16, half of them being two obsolete Foxtrot and aging
Kilo class of the Soviet vintage. And the strength is set to fall further.
Navy has come under criticism recently by the Comptroller and Auditor General
(CAG) of India for allowing the operational state of submarines to fall to 16,
half of them being two obsolete Foxtrot and aging Kilo class of the Soviet vintage.
And the strength is set to fall further.
The two old Foxtrot class boats
are to be decommissioned. The programme to build six Scorpene submarine at the
Mazagaon Docks is experiencing a one year delay in delivery and the first boat
will be commissioned only in 2013.
The Navy therefore needs to take a long
term view for its future. Ten years ago, the Government sanctioned a two line
30 year submarine building plan. It was also envisaged that India would become
an exporter of submarines. The Navys submarine arm rightly clamoured for
a submarine centric Navy, but there has always been a sort of contest between
those favouring induction of submarines and those asking for aircraft carriers.
some allege that the aircraft carrier lobby has been stronger, objectively speaking,
the Navy actually lacks in both these capabilities.
However, two aircraft
carriers, the 45,000 tonnes INS Vikramaditya and the 37,500 tonnes Air Defence
Ship (ADS) are under the process of re-fitment or construction and it would be
sometime before they are operational after due trials.
Russia has delayed
the delivery of Vikramaditaya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov by three years, while
the ADS, being built with design consultancy from Italys Fincantieri, is
also delayed slightly.
The two aircraft carriers are estimated to cost
around USD 4 billion. The costs of aircraft, helicopters and some offensive and
defensive weapons would be additional.
The Navy should have gone in for
a second line of submarines much earlier, but it was only recently that the Chief
of Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, formally announced the programme go-ahead
at a conference at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
ongoing project for 6 French Scorpene submarines commenced in 2005. These boats
are to be supplied with underwater tube launched subsonic MBDA Exocet missiles
with 120 km range and European-made torpedoes. The project is being executed by
the French Armaris/DCNS and Spanish-Navantia combine at a cost of $ 3 bill in
the congested East yard at Mazagon Docks.
A legal charge of wrongdoing in
the deal however, filed by Transparency International still breathes in Delhis
High Court, keeping naval officers in the project occupied in courts, threatening
the project with further delay. On the aircraft carriers side, Russia has asked
for revision of its contract to refurbish Vikramaditya, or Gorshkov, demanding
an additional $1.2 billion over the earlier settled price of $975 million.
the spotlight is shining on the Navys upcoming choice for its second line
multi-billion dollar indigenous submarine building programme. Requests for Proposals
(RFPs) in this regard are under release by the Minsitry of Defence (MOD).
recall, it was the alleged HDW scandal of the 1980s that had put a halt to Indias
ambitious submarine building programme, for no fault of the Navy. An excellent
facility which had been built up at the East Yard of the Mazagon Docks by 1985,
had to be disbanded after two HDW-IKL 1500 ton design submarines INS Shalki and
Shankul, had been successfully built and commissioned in the Indian Navy in 1992.
innocuous telegram from Indias Ambassador in Germany, inquiring if the 7.5%
commission was to be paid for more submarines as for the first four, set in motion
a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry. HDW was blacklisted, and the
inquiry finally died a natural death in 2006.
India s ambitions to
build submarines in numbers in India were disrupted. In fact, Admiral Mehta pointed
out in his lecture at the IDSA that India lost the opportunity to become
a premier submarine building nation. In the interregnum, the Indian Navy
acquired 10 double decked Kilo class boats from the erstwhile Soviet Union, between
1986 and 2000.
had to be sent back to Russia for midlife refits and conversion to fire Klub missiles
at great cost to the exchequer. The latest INS Sindhuvijay recently arrived after
successful Klub firing trials in July 2008 off St Petersburg.
being made at Hindustan Shipyard to develop this capability. Russias Rosoboronexport
has set up Rosboronservice as an agency to facilitate supply of spares and Russian
experts but for such specialised submarine refits, a nation needs to possess its
own submarine building facilities with specialized welding techniques and workers
to execute tasks in confined spaces. This expertise is becoming gradually available
at Vishakapatnam, thanks to Indias Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV), a
name given to Indias indigenous nuclear submarine project.
of this vessel has progressed well at Vishakpatnams Ship Building Centre
(SBC)s dry dock and awaits launch. The Navys planners have been engaged
in examining the bids for the second line of submarine building, which include
Spains Navantia S-80A, HDWs 214, DCNS French Super Scorpene and an
Italian Fincantieri offer of S-100 in collaboration with Rubin of Russia.
the Russian builders of the Amur class had put up a proposal with Indias
Larsen and Tubro to set up a submarine building facility, and L&T as it is
known, even offered to build the Scorpene submarines.
L&T is investing
around $2.5 billion in this area, and is also a partner in the ATV project. The
project was under wraps for a long time, and only recently, its existence was
admitted by the Chief of Naval Staff.
All bidders for Indias second
line of submarines have confirmed that they will be able to install a plug of
4/8 under water vertically launched missiles of the BrahMos variety, and Mr Sivathanu
Pillai CEO of Brahmos Aerospace Ltd, who is also the Controller of all naval DRDO
projects, has stated that the underwater launch of BrahMos from a submarine will
pose no problems.
In fact, indications are that it is just about to be
a reality. Indias former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the architect of
the successful BrahMos joint venture, has also articulated the same sentiments.
The length of the S-100 based on the Amur 1650 submarine has been increased from
66.8 meters to 73.1 meters to incorporate the BrahMos.
At the same time,
BrahMos itself is being modified to make it smaller. The current economic turmoil
in the West which has taken the world by surprise, and the recent rise of Russia,
Indias trusted strategic partner, need to be considered as possible factors
in the decision-making process, although Defence Ministry sources insist that
any deals would be on merit..
Indias Defence Procurement Procedure
(DPP 2008) also harps on political considerations being arbiters in the final
selection of strategic defence purchases. It needs airing that India, with Russian
help from Rubin and other yards and suppliers has already stealthily acquired
very impressive indigenous submarine building skills in its classified 8000 ton
ATV nuclear submarine project.
Many systems have been indigenised at the
Defence Materials Department (DMD) at Hyderabad for the project, and experience
in construction of the sections assisted by Russian technology have been mated
in the hull, awaiting launch.
skills so acquired need to be harnessed and unleashed for future submarine building
programmes. Leading Indian suppliers like KSB Pumps, L&T, Walchand Industries
, Bharat Electronics, Godrej Boyce, Tatas, Jindal Pipes and other contractors
at Vishakapatnam are looking forward to becoming suppliers for the S-100 project.
It is also opportune perhaps now to lift the veil of secrecy over the $
1.5 billion ATV project as Indian suppliers and vendors have been informed of
more orders in the pipe line to make the project viable for them. Indias
nuclear deterrence from the sea is dependant on the ATV project and its follow-on
Presently, the Indian Navy has a depleting conventional operational
submarine fleet. And as a thumb rule, only 60 per cent of a submarine fleet is
operational for war patrols at any given time.
From its pre-eminent strength
of 21 underwater killer submarines, which included the nuclear Charlie class boat,
India has only seven operational submarine platforms, and at a time when the Navy
aspires for Blue Water capability.
The world is also witnessing
the dramatic rise of the Chinese PLA (Navy)s large submarine fleet, which
Indian planners need to consider. Indias nuclear doctrine includes the caveat
of No First Use but mandates a Triad of arsenal in which the IndianNavy
is expected to provide for Indias nuclear deterrence from the sea.
Sukhanya class OPVs are being modified to fire the 300 km Dhanush SSM which DRDO
claims is nuclear capable, but it would be a folly in this day and age to arm
surface ships with nuclear warheads for deterrence, as they would be tracked and
Stealthy nuclear submarines are the answer.
On offer, the
S-100 based on the Amur has been designed by Fincantieri which has consultancy
of the Navys 37,500 ton Aircraft carrier being built at Cochin and the Rubin
Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering (CDBME).
It has been described
by its legendary General Designer Yuri Kormilitsin, a well wisher of the Indian
Navy, as being a fourthgeneration SSK that had been conceived as an underwater
hunterkiller SSK. The submarine has
the ability to destroy surface and submerged
targets using both torpedoes and BrahMos guidedmissiles.
design incorporates comprehensive signature management techniques including the
use of noise-absorbing elements.
The machinery is mounted on the nose and
vibration-attenuated mounts. Notably, the single-hull architecture, a first in
Russian submarine-shipbuilding practice, has helped reduce the acoustic signature
by 300 per cent when compared to the earlier double-hulled Project Kilo class
Politically, the Russian defence connection is essential for India,
as it was announced after President Medvedevs recent visit to India in early
Russia is set to supply four more nuclear power plants with lifetime
uranium supplies, in addition to the two VVER-1000 MW each under construction
at Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu. Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Ivan Kaminskih,
who has also been dealing with Indias ATV, is involved in the project.
Indian Navy is also awaiting the transfer of the nuclear Akula class submarine
Nerpa on lease, after it is successfully commissioned into the Russian Navy as
part of the established procedures before transfer to another country.
suffered an accident off Vladivostok on trials when its Freon fire fighting system
was inadvertently operated, killing 21 workers. There was no damage to the vessel,
and those who perished died because the number of gas masks on board was much
less than the number of people on the vessel.
Authoritative sources told
India Strategic that Nerpa had a lot of workers on board as part
of the tests that day, but the number of gas masks was limited according to the
number of the crew. Thats how the tragedy happened.
is expected to be the Navys platform for the training of the ATV crew.
DRDO-ATV nuclear submarine project has engineering support and equipment from
Russia, and includes supply of the essential enriched uranium fuel for ATVs
hybrid Indian designed reactor. A large team of DRDO, BARC and Kalpakkam-based
atomic research scientists and many naval officers and technicians have been trained
in nuclear submarine engineering directly under the direction of the Prime Ministers
Office (PMO), which also controls the Department of Atomic Energy.
this maiden nuclear submarine venture succeeds and Indias ATV Captain reports
from sea that he is under way on steam generated by nuclear power, it will truly
be an achievement the nation can be proud of.
In due course, DRDO hopes
to arm ATVs with underwater long range K-15 Sagarika missiles from universal vertical
launcher plugs built by L&T. Three missile firing trials from an under water
platform have been successfully carried out and the same missile is being adapted
in a 5 canister version for vertical launch from shore.
The missile, designated
Shaurya, can be configured for several attack roles, and could replace the Agni
1, as it can be stored in underground silos also.
The Indian Navy has also
trained key personnel at Sosnoy Bar in Russia near St Petersburg and appointed
an Inspector General of Vice Admiral rank to oversee the nuclear submarine project
The Government has to appreciate that the Russians, who have supplied
the engines for the BrahMos missile, have been quick to have grasped Indias
requirements for its second line of submarines and to make the Italian- Russian
choice for the Navys second line a win-win long term choice, where the experience
of the ATV and Scorpene can be mated.
This is where the Russian-Italian
collaboration could score in Indias selection for the second line.
is not fully western in origin, which tap can be shut off as was experienced during
Western sanctions in the past, The submarine on offer will have commonalities
with Indias ATV which has Indian suppliers. The Russians have carried out
tests to launch the BrahMos in an equivalent mock up of a submarine and had earlier
offered the elongated hump backed Amur 1650 ton submarine to the Indian Navy.
$ three billion-plus second line of submarine building will be a critical decision
for Indias maritime ambitions.
are those of the author, a former Director Naval Intelligence and now a contributory