The Growth and De­vel­op­ment of the Sub­ma­rine Arm

The eight­ies was a decade of mas­sive changes that not only recog­nised the im­por­tance of the sub­ma­rine arm but laid the foundation for the trans­for­ma­tion of the arm - from con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions that would ful­fil Sea De­nial mis­sions to de­ter­renc


bArely Three months af­ter the Bat­tle of Trafal­gar, in Jan­uary 1806 the then First Sea Lord Ad­mi­ral John Jervis, Earl St. Vincent ob­served of sub­ma­rine war­fare ÒPitt was the great­est fool that ever ex­isted, to en­cour­age a mode of war which they who com­manded the seas did not want, and which, if suc­cess­ful, would de­prive them of it.” A cen­tury and eleven years later the Zim­mer­mann Tele­gram her­alded the be­gin­ning of sub­ma­rine war­fare.

Òwe in­tend to be­gin un­re­stricted sub­ma­rine war­fare on the first of Fe­bru­ary. We shall en­deav­our in spite of this to keep the United States neu­tral....Ó

The rest as they say is his­tory. The other mile­stone event that would drastically change the role of sub­ma­rine was the sig­nal made by Cap­tain Eu­gene Wilkinson on Jan­uary 17, 1955 “Un­der­way on Nu­clear Power”. Nu­clear propul­sion had com­pleted the meta­mor­pho­sis of the sub­mersible into a true sub­ma­rine, whose abil­ity to stay sub­merged was lim­ited only by hu­man endurance. Speed, endurance and the stan­dard weapon load of tor­pe­does cou­pled with stealth had given it the unique abil­ity to de­liver sub­stan­tial fire­power, op­er­at­ing in­de­pen­dently.

The USS Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, the first SSBN was com­mis­sioned on De­cem­ber 30, 1959. The sub­ma­rine now be­came ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing a nu­clear strike. The SSBN be­came the plat­form of choice for the Òas­sured se­cond strike ca­pa­bil­i­tyÓ, that would en­sure mu­tual as­sured de­struc­tion... a vi­tal strat­egy for main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity of De­ter­rence.

The in­dian navy com­mis­sioned its first sub­ma­rine INS Kal­vari; an erst­while Soviet built F class on De­cem­ber 8, 1967. The his­tor­i­cal prej­u­dices and re­luc­tance that stymied the in­duc­tion of sub­marines af­flicted In­dian naval think­ing... A navy pre­oc­cu­pied with ÔSea Con­trolÕ did not think too much about sub­marines, es­pe­cially in the early years when the naval Bud­get was in­deed mod­est.

The Be­gin­ning

In­dian Sub­ma­rine Arm be­gan its jour­ney with the com­mis­sion­ing of INS Kal­vari fol- lowed by three more of the same class, in­ducted in a span of two years. The Vela Class fol­lowed. These ‘F’ class sub­marines laid the foundation for safe and ef­fi­cient sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions. The In­dian Navy had al­ready started its quest for in­di­geni­sa­tion of sur­face ships; inS nil­giri was com­mis­sioned in 1972. It was only nat­u­ral for the navy to seek to ex­tend in­dige­nous build ca­pa­bil­ity to sub­marines. The now in­fa­mous HDW pro­gramme was ini­ti­ated in 1983. The plan was to in­duct four sub­marines, two to be built at HDW and the bal­ance two at MDL, Mumbai. There was also an op­tion clause to build two more should it be con­sid­ered ex­pe­di­ent. This pro­ject was in­tended, in­ter-alia to pro­vide us the op­por­tu­nity to Ôlearn and ex­e­cuteÕthe sub­ma­rine build process.

Con­cur­rent with the ini­ti­a­tion of the HDW pro­gramme, for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son the in­dian navy or­dered im­port of four 877 EKM sub­marines from the erst­while Soviet Union. The strength of the 877 EKMs was even­tu­ally in­creased to 10. This de­ci­sion was non se­quitur in the in­di­geni­sa­tion idea. The HDW scam and the 877 EKM ac­qui­si­tion pro­gramme sounded the death knell for the in­dige­nous sub­ma­rine pro­gramme. All fa­cil­i­ties cre­ated at MDL and skills that were de­vel­oped fell to dis­use af­ter INS Shankul was de­liv­ered in 1994.


The Shishu­mar ( HDW) and the Sind­hughosh (877EKM) class sub­ma­rine rep­re­sented vastly dif­fer­ing de­sign, con­struc­tion and weapon sys­tem philoso­phies. These changes im­posed great chal­lenges in train­ing. How­ever, de­spite these con­straints the crews of these sub­marines quickly mas­tered the art of safely op­er­at­ing and ef­fec­tively ex­ploit­ing them.

The in­duc­tion of these sub­marines gave the sub­ma­rine arm and the sub­ma­rine de­sign team an op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­ploit sub­marines of dif­fer­ent de­signs that no other coun­try in the world would have had. We now had the op­por­tu­nity to com­pare and de­rive valu­able lessons which would have helped us in our quest for in­di­geni­sa­tion. How­ever, un­for­tu­nately that was not to be. In­stead of ob­jec­tively analysing and de­riv­ing the best, the sub­ma­rine arm be­came po­larised, mainly be­cause ei­ther group felt that they had the com­pul­sion to es­tab­lish that the boats that they served in was the best.

Af­ter Pokhran-1 in 1974, it was nat­u­ral to dab­ble with the idea of a nu­clear sub­ma­rine. Some pre­lim­i­nary at­tempts were made in the early eight­ies to de­sign and demon­strate an in­dige­nous nu­clear sub­ma­rine, un­der the aegis of the DRDO and BARC. Some of­fi­cers of the de­sign team who had been de­puted to IKL Lubeck as part of the HDW pro­gramme were roped in to de­sign the sub­ma­rine. How­ever, there were many im­ped­i­ments that pre­vented fruition of that pro­gramme. To en­able us to learn and com­pre­hend nu­clear sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions a Char­lie Class Sub­ma­rine, chris­tened INS Chakra was leased from the Soviet Union in 1987.

The eight­ies was a decade of mas­sive changes that not only recog­nised the im­por­tance of the sub­ma­rine arm but laid the foundation for the trans­for­ma­tion of the arm - from con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine op­er­a­tions that would ful­fil Sea De­nial mis­sions to de­ter­rence patrols that would be the most re­li­able third leg of the nu­clear triad.


In the late nineties a de­ci­sion to in­voke the op­tion clause of build­ing two more sub­marines of the HDW pro­gramme was ex­plored. The key stip­u­la­tion was that the HDW not to be in­volved as a in­ves­ti­ga­tion was go­ing on against them. DCNS France was to help build the sub­ma­rine un­der li­cence that DCNS was to ob­tain from HDW!! How­ever, the im­por­tant ques­tion that needed to be an­swered was ÒWhy is it that we, who had built two sub­marines of the same de­sign, were un­able to con­tinue the line?Ó

To be able to ar­rive at an an­swer we need to look at the sub­ma­rine de­sign and build en­vi­ron­ment that ex­ists in sub­ma­rine build­ing na­tions. The sub­marines pro­duced in any coun­try fol­low a com­mon de­sign phi­los­o­phy which is sys­tem­at­i­cally and pe­ri­od­i­cally up­graded. In Ger­many for ex­am­ple, IKL (Lubeck) does the de­sign and the sub­ma­rine is con­structed in a con­struc­tion yard. The func­tion of the yard is es­sen­tially hull fab­ri­ca­tion and ag­gre­gat­ing and in­te­grat­ing the var­i­ous equip­ment, ma­chin­ery and sys­tems that are sourced from myr­iad sources. In this case the main mo­tors will come from Siemens, the diesel en­gines from MAAN, most of the com­bat sys­tems from At­las Elec­tronik and so on. The French, the Rus­sians and even the Amer­i­cans have sim­i­lar es­tab­lished Small and medium-sized en­ter­prises (Sme) en­vi­ron­ment. To be able to suc­cess­fully de­sign and de­liver a sub­ma­rine there must ex­ist an in­dige­nous tech­nol­ogy base and in­dus­trial ca­pa­bil­ity that would be able to sup­port the de­sign re­quire­ments i.e. a ca­pa­ble SME en­vi­ron­ment.

The South Kore­ans started sub­ma­rine con­struc­tion af­ter us. To­day, they have es­tab­lished the de­sign and build ca­pa­bil­ity, com­plete with a su­perb SME en­vi­ron­ment. They make their own en­gines, mo­tors, SONARS, tor­pe­does and tube launched mis­siles com­pa­ra­ble to the best avail­able in in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. Our in­abil­ity to con­tinue with the HDW line or the fail­ure to progress in­dige­nous de­sign for the nu­clear sub­ma­rine pro­gramme was es­sen­tially be­cause nei­ther the de­sign­ers nor the builder had knowl­edge of or the ac­cess to equip­ment sys­tems and weapons that would make the sub­ma­rine a ca­pa­ble weapons plat­form.


The Shishu­mar class when it was ac­quired had state-of-the-art sys­tems. The de­sign, the equip­ment fit and the weapon and sen­sor pack­age had a har­mony that en­abled fa­cil­ity of op­er­a­tion. For ex­am­ple, the de­sign of the snort sys­tem per­mit­ted prepa­ra­tion and start­ing diesel en­gines even be­fore the snort mast broke sur­face. This al­lowed the sub­ma­rine to drastically re­duce un­pro­duc­tive ex­po­sure. Based on some of the sys­tems on board the DRDO un­der­took var­i­ous R&D pro­grammes, no­table among which were the Panchyen­dra, which was to be an in­te­grated com­bat man­age­ment sys­tem and the Wire Guided Tor­pedo.

The Panchyen­dra had in­cor­po­rated some very in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions. The CMA math­e­mat­ics had some meth­ods which were bet­ter than the Shishu­mar on board sys­tem. How­ever, nei­ther pro­gramme saw fruition for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. The sad part was we did not per­se­vere. In the late nineties there was an un­en­thu­si­as­tic at­tempt at a Close Cy­cle Diesel based AIP.

Tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion our mar­itime re­spon­si­bil­i­ties the In­dian Navy would re­quire a force level of six to eight SSNs for de­ter­rent patrols, shad­ow­ing and other covert mis­sions. We can­not con­tinue to de­pend on leased SSNs to pro­vide us this ca­pa­bil­ity in­def­i­nitely.

There­after in 2005/2006 Naval Ma­te­rial re­search lab­o­ra­tory (nmrl) was given the go ahead to work on the Phos­pho­ric Acid Based Fuel Cell AIP. This was to be en­gi­neered for the Scor­pene. How­ever, from avail­able reports the Scor­penes are un­likely to be fit­ted with any kind of AIP.

in the pe­riod from com­mis­sion­ing inS Shishu­mar to the late nineties when the In­dian Navy was seek­ing to in­voke the op­tion clause of build­ing two more sub­marines, tremen­dous changes in tech­nol­ogy had al­ready taken place. Stealth fea­tures were en­hanced by cra­dle mount­ing equip­ment and sys­tems. Tor­pedo ranges were en­hanced con­sid­er­ably. Pro­ton-ex­change mem­brane (PEM) fuel cell tech­nol­ogy had al­ready ma­tured. Op­tronic masts, towed ar­ray SONAR and towed wire an­ten­nae had rev­o­lu­tionised the con­ven­tional sub­ma­rine ca­pa­bil­ity and op­er­at­ing mi­lieu. The Shishu­mar class un­der­went a midlife up­date with the Ger­man CSU90-14 com­bat suite, Ziess periscopes, etc.

The rea­sons why we lag in r&D needs to be stud­ied and rec­ti­fied. Prima Fa­cie, it would seem that com­pa­nies such as Thales, At­las, At­las Eleck­tronik, Sagem, Karl Ziess and cor­re­spond­ing es­tab­lish­ments in rus­sia uni­ver­salise the ap­pli­ca­tions across plat­forms. For ex­am­ple op­tron­ics is used in sur­face ships, sub­marines, air­craft, tanks and even the in­fantry. This abil­ity to adopt, mod­ify and scale sys­tems for var­ied ap­pli­ca­tions al­lows them to sus­tain R&D and re­main rel­e­vant.

The Fu­ture

Sub­marines have evolved as the most ef­fec­tive of­fen­sive weapons plat­form that can op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently in any mar­itime area. The in­her­ent qual­ity of stealth fire­power and sur­viv­abil­ity makes them plat­forms of choice for de­ter­rent mis­sions in the en­tire spec­trum of con­flict. In the fu­ture, as de­ter­rence gets tested the one plat­form that can pro­vide graded out of area ri­poste will be the SSN.

To ful­fil na­tional se­cu­rity and mar­itime se­cu­rity mis­sions it be­hoves the in­dian navy to de­ploy size­able num­ber of SSKs, SSNs and SSBNs. The need for a healthy force level of sub­marines has been ac­cepted by the gov­ern­ment. The on­go­ing Pro­ject 75 and the Ari­hant pro­gramme in­di­cate the gov­ern­ment’s in­tent. How­ever, de­ci­sion de­lays and de­lays in de­liv­ery sched­ules con­tinue to plague us. There is a need to quickly im­ple­ment the P75(I) pro­gramme and be­gin con­struc­tion of the much needed SSNs. Tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion our mar­itime re­spon­si­bil­i­ties the in­dian navy would re­quire a force level of six to eight SSNs for de­ter­rent patrols, shad­ow­ing and other covert mis­sions. We can­not con­tinue to de­pend on leased SSns to pro­vide us this ca­pa­bil­ity in­def­i­nitely.

The most im­por­tant as­pect that pro­vides cred­i­bil­ity to any pol­icy is demon­stra­ble ca­pa­bil­ity. To en­sure mar­itime se­cu­rity and pro­vide cred­i­bil­ity to our nu­clear de­ter- rence pol­icy we need a force level of 24 to 30 at­tack sub­marines (con­ven­tional and nu­clear) and at least six SSbn that would pro­vide the ca­pa­bil­ity of de­liv­er­ing the cred­i­ble min­i­mum de­ter­rence at any given time.

In the Golden Ju­bilee year of the In­dian navyÕs Sub­ma­rine Arm let us lay the foundation to es­tab­lish the na­tional Com­pe­tence to build, de­ploy and sus­tain a vi­able sub­ma­rine ca­pa­bil­ity.


rAnD Cor­po­ra­tion study Òlearn­ing from Ex­pe­ri­ence” gives valu­able in­sights into prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with sub­ma­rine build­ing. The cru­cial les­son that stands out is that the most ef­fec­tive and cost ef­fec­tive way to build sub­marines is to fol­low an es­tab­lished de­sign and build phi­los­o­phy bring­ing in well thought out in­cre­men­tal changes. To be able to do this and avoid ob­so­les­cence the SME en­vi­ron­ment needs to gear-up like it has hap­pened in Korea and China. They adopted a build phi­los­o­phy, es­tab­lished tech­nol­ogy thresh­olds and pro­gressed. The writer is for­mer In­spec­tor Gen­eral, Nu­clear Safety and FOC-in-C, South­ern Naval Com­mand.

The cru­cial les­son that stands out is that the most ef­fec­tive and cost ef­fec­tive way to build sub­marines is to fol­low an es­tab­lished de­sign and build phi­los­o­phy bring­ing in well thought out in­cre­men­tal changes.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: In­dian Navy

INS Chakra

PHO­TO­GRAPH: In­dian Navy

INS Shishu­mar


(Top) Kal­vari sub­ma­rine dur­ing its sea tri­als; (above) Khan­deri, the se­cond of In­dian Navy’s Scor­pene class stealth sub­ma­rine, dur­ing the launch.

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