In­dia def­i­nitely re­quires two to three air­craft car­ries op­er­a­tional at all times but it should also have a larger num­ber of sub­marines con­sid­er­ing that Chi­nese sub­marines are al­ready lurk­ing in the In­dian Ocean


In­dia cat­a­pulted into a top elite club with the launch of the 37,500-tonne INS Vikrant, the in­dige­nous air­craft car­rier. With this, In­dia is the fifth coun­try in the world af­ter the US, UK, Rus­sia and France to have demon­strated the ca­pa­bil­ity of de­sign­ing and build­ing a ship of this size. Post-ex­ten­sive sea tri­als, it is likely to be in­ducted into ser­vice by 2017-18. It has the ca­pac­ity to carry 36 fighter air­craft; 19 on the deck and 17 in hangars and in all prob­a­bil­ity will house the MiG-29K, in­dige­nous light com­bat air­craft (LCA) and Kamov-31 helicopters. Nearly 90 per cent of the air­craft car­rier parts are re­port­edly in­dige­nous.

A con­cur­rent achieve­ment has been the minia­turised nu­clear re­ac­tor on board INS Ari­hant, In­dia’s first in­dige­nous nu­clear-pow­ered sub­ma­rine go­ing crit­i­cal, which the Prime Min­is­ter de­scribed as “a gi­ant stride for the na­tion”.

This de­vel­op­ment beefs up the coun­try’s ca­pa­bil­ity for mak­ing the nu­clear triad a re­al­ity. The Ari­hant class sub­marines are of 6,000-tonne sub­marines that can carry 12 x K5 SLBMs (750 to 1,900 kilo­me­tres range) or 4 x K4 SLBM (un­der de­vel­op­ment with range of 1,890 to 3,500 kilo­me­tres. The tor­pedo tubes on the sub­ma­rine can launch tor­pe­does, mis­siles or mines. Four such sub­marines ves­sels are be­ing built and are ex­pected to be com­mis­sioned by 2023.

In ad­di­tion to the above, the Rus­sian air­craft car­rier Gor­shkov too is likely to be in­ducted into the In­dian Navy in 2014 as INS Vikra­ma­ditya. This will boost the blue wa­ter ca­pa­bil­ity of the Navy.

How­ever, re­ports em­a­nat­ing af­ter the tragic ex­plo­sion and loss of life on board INS Sind­hu­rak­shak in­di­cate that we need to ac­cel­er­ate re­place­ment of our ex­ist­ing sub­marines most of which have out­lived 75 per cent of their ser­vice life. There is also a case for boost­ing up the over­all num­ber of our sub­marines con­sid­er­ing In­dia has a coast­line ex­tend­ing 7,863 kilo­me­tres, ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ) of 1.02 mil­lion square kilo­me­tres, is­land ter­ri­to­ries, and off­shore as­sets ex­tended over 17,000 square kilo­me­tres (in­clud­ing 30 pro­cess­ing wells, 125 well plat­forms and 3,000 kilo­me­tres of seabed pipe­lines) and 97 per cent of our trade is by sea.

In fact, China has given pri­or­ity to sub­ma­rine de­vel­op­ment over air­craft car­ri­ers for ob­vi­ous op­er­a­tional ad­van­tage. China, In­dia and Pak­istan to­day have 65, 15 and 8 sub­marines re­spec­tively. In­dia def­i­nitely re­quires two to three air­craft car­ri­ers op­er­a­tional at all times but it should also have a larger num­ber of sub­marines con­sid­er­ing that Chi­nese sub­marines are al­ready lurk­ing in the In­dian Ocean, en­larg­ing China and China-Pak­istan col­lu­sive threat and Chi­nese at­tempts to rig up a pos­si­ble China-led al­liance in the In­dian Ocean re­gion in­clud­ing ef­forts to es­tab­lish bases/re­fu­elling and rest and re­coup for Chi­nese Navy un­der pre­text of de­vel­op­ing com­mer­cial ports.

Chi­nese have in­vested heav­ily in sub­marines and guided mis­sile de­stroy­ers to counter prob­a­ble Amer­i­can Car­rier Bat­tle Groups (CBGs) in pos­si­ble stand-offs, mak­ing sea ca­pa­bil­ity the an­swer to a su­pe­rior US forces sea con­trol ca­pa­bil­ity. Not that they do not con­sider CBGs im­por­tant but that per­haps is the rea­son that China is yet to launch an in­dige­nous air­craft car­rier though they have ac­quired a re­fur­bished one from Ukraine in year 2012.

Of course the Chi­nese also have ad­vanced ICBMs, nuke de­liv­ery sys­tems, un­de­clared chem­i­cal weapons ca­pa­bil­ity, ad­vanced satel­lite and anti-satel­lite ca­pa­bil­i­ties, ex­ten­sive third di­men­sion ca­pa­bil­ity, a for­mi­da­ble air force, po­tent cyber war­fare ca­pa­bil­ity and ad­vanced sub­con­ven­tional/asym­met­ric war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

We could draw lessons from what the Chi­nese are up to in­clud­ing un­der­tak­ing a re­view that con­sid­er­ing the threats that we face at sea and the se­cu­rity of our sea lanes of com­mu­ni­ca­tions (SLOCs) on which our econ­omy is heav­ily de­pen­dent, whether our sub­ma­rine de­vel­op­ment plan is on course in the over­all mo­saic of ac­quir­ing true blue-wa­ter ca­pa­bil­ity. The views ex­pressed herein are the per­sonal views of the author.

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