An important capability any Navy must have is a Submarine Arm. A modern submarine can conduct both overt and covert operations. In wartime a submarine can carry out a number of missions including, Sea Denial, Surveillance and information gathering, landing of special operations forces, attack of land targets by Land Attack Missile and protection of task forces and merchant shipping.
|The author is former Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of Indian Navy. During his tenure as the CNS, he also served as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He retired on May 31, 2019. The Admiral is currently the Chairman of National Maritime Foundation.|
There is little dispute over the assertion that the world today is characterised by multi-layered and multi-faceted diversity from political, demographic, economic, environmental and strategic viewpoints. A series of recent developments indicates that the domestic political situations of several key players in the international arena are undergoing significant shifts, as are relations between players. Everything around us seems to suggest that the world is in another period of historical transition. In addition, we are living in a period of ‘strategic uncertainty’ manifesting itself as a complex interplay between nations across multiple domains.
Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific
It is widely acknowledged that the fortunes of a nation are determined, to a great extent, by its geography. Looking at India’s geography, we can only rejoice at our good fortune. From a regional perspective, the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific, is home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s population and has emerged as the centre of global manufacturing and service industry. The most important maritime choke points and trade routes of the world exist in this region. India’s central position in the IOR, astride the important sea-lanes of the world, gives us immense strategic advantages as well. It facilitates reach, sustenance and mobility of our maritime forces, thereby giving us an ability to effectively influence this maritime space. While this geography affords us opportunities to harness the seas to our advantage, it has also placed us at the very centre of the ongoing ‘Strategic churn’ taking place in this region. Its impact on India in the future will be determined by our outlook and choices that we adopt today.
A credible deterrence and invulnerable second-strike capability is essential, for which a SSBN is the most effective platform as it is the most survivable platform of the triad
To meet the challenges in the maritime domain, the Indian Navy has focused on developing capabilities in all the three domains, in the air, on the surface and underwater. The multidimensional force structure is based on the Long Term Perspective Plan. An important capability any Navy must have is a Submarine Arm. A modern submarine is a multi-role platform and constitutes the cutting edge of a navy’s frontline offensive capability across the entire spectrum of conflict – strategic, operational and tactical. It can conduct both overt and covert operations. In peacetime it can act as a deterrent, as well as for surveillance operations and information gathering. In wartime a submarine can carry out a number of missions including, Sea Denial, Surveillance and information gathering, landing of special operations forces, attack of land targets by Land Attack Missile and protection of task forces and merchant shipping. The Indian Navy submarine arm was born on December 8, 1967 with the commissioning of the erstwhile INS Kalvari, a Foxtrot Class submarine at Riga in then USSR. In the past 53 years the submarine arm has come a long way and makes up the offence combat capability of the Indian Navy. INS Kalvari has been reborn in a new avatar of the first Scorpene Class in December 2017.
Indian Submarine Fleet
The Indian Navy’s submarine force structure is based on Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS) approved plan of 24 submarines in 1999. These boats were to be built over a period of thirty years, upto 2030. This plan was modified in 2015 to six SSN (Nuclear Attack Submarine) plus 18 conventional submarines. The plan for 18 conventional boats includes the six Scorpene Class submarines. These are to be followed by six boats of Project 75(I) and thereafter six boats of Project 76. The Plan is running way behind schedule. There have been delays in the construction and induction of the Scorpene Class at Mazagon Dockyard. The follow-on Project 75(I) for six SSKs with Air Independent Propulsion are planned to be built under the Strategic Partnership Model introduced by the Ministry of Defence in 2016. Presently, neither has the Indian Shipyard or the foreign partner has been selected. The Project 75(I) envisage transfer of know-how and know-why, so the next project Project 76 would be a totally Indian designed and built submarine.
India has two submarine building lines, one at Mazagon Dock in Mumbai and the second at Submarine Building Centre in Vishakhapatnam. These lines have been built at great cost and time. The skill set required to build submarines are complex and can only be built over a period by time by investing in training of skilled manpower and then retaining them. We set up a line at Mazagon in early 80’s at great expense in infrastructure and skill development, to build only two Type 209 SSK with no follow on orders, losing out on the skilled manpower which had to be retrained all over again to build the Scorpene Class. The induction of new submarines are planned to be under the Strategic Partnership Model. A Committee was set up to examine all the shipyards in the country which have the potential to build the Project 75(I) submarines. Two shipyards have been short listed as strategic partner namely Mazagon Dock and L&T. In my opinion Mazagon Dock should be designated as the strategic partner for building conventional submarine. The Navy has over the years invested in building the infrastructure to build conventional submarine at Mazagon and the shipyard has developed the skills in the form of welders and others. We cannot let history repeat itself by letting this submarine building line morph once again. The nuclear powered submarines are built at SBC at Vishakhapatnam under the ATV programme run by DRDO and the Navy. L&T has partnered with the ATV programme to build the SSBN. They can be designated as the strategic partner for all nuclear submarines. This way the nation’s investment and skill set developed by both the yards MDL and L&T can be gainfully utilised and building time of the submarine perspective plan kept to the minimum.
In view of the delay in Project 75(I), the Navy has gone in for Medium Refit and Life Certification (MRLC) of two SSK (Type 209) and three Kilo class to extent their life beyond 30 years to have the requisite force level of conventional boats. There is an urgent need to select the strategic partner for Project 75(I) and get the project off the ground, as it would take a minimum to six years to induct the first boat post CCS approval and we are looking at 2027/28 earliest if the Project is sanctioned in 2021.
‘No First Use’ is the cornerstone of our nuclear doctrine. A credible deterrence and invulnerable second-strike capability is essential, for which a SSBN is the most effective platform as it is the most survivable platform of the triad. Presently, India has one SSBN, INS Arihant, which we built indigenously and she has completed her first deterrent patrol successfully in November 2018. To have assured second strike capability we need to have Continuous Assured Deterrence at sea, for which the needed number of SSBN are being built.
The submarine arm is an all-volunteer force within the Navy. It takes time to induct, train and have qualified manpower to man a submarine. The training period for nuclear platform is even longer. The availability to competent crew and induction of new submarines have to be matched. This is an important factor to operationally deploy as there cannot be a mismatch between the two.
The other challenge is to fund the submarine building programme. The fall in the Navy’s share of the defence budget has been arrested, but it need to grow back to 18 per cent as it was in 2012. The overall Defence Budget also need to grow to build the required military capabilities to meet the strategic challenges the country faces and also step up to the security role we need to execute in the Indian Ocean Region.