ADECS 2018: India’s Silent Arm Progresses…slowly

Having initiated its 30-year submarine-building plan two decades ago to raise operational and indigenous construction capabilities, modernisation of the Indian Navy (IN) underwater fleet has been slow but rewarding.

Chief of Naval Staff Adm Sunil Lanba related, ‘Way back we took a call that we’re going to be a ‘builders’ navy rather than buyers’ navy. We’ve built over 200 ships…At the moment we have 41 ships and submarines all under construction in defence and private shipyards and new assets are being inducted into the navy.’

Last December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned INS Kalvari, the first of six Scorpene-class submarines built at Mazagon Dock in Mumbai under Project 75.

Lanba elaborated, ‘Submarines are the navy’s silent arm and an integral part of our naval strategy. The indigenisation of the Project 75 marks a new chapter in our submarine capability, the bulwark of our maritime competence.’

However, such an indigenous production ambition is not without birth pains. Induction of Kalvari suffered a five-year delay due to issues relating to technology transfer.

Khanderi, the navy’s second Scorpene-class boat, was launched in January 2017. Plans are to induct the rest by 2020 to help meet the target of building 24 submarines by 2030.

Indian submarine operations have considerably matured and Lanba said some submarines ‘are undergoing midlife upgrades in a phased manner to further boost capability’.

He added that having an edge was ‘not only because of the assets we possess but the robust individual content. The third P75 submarine will further prove our use of global standards in production, following the experience we have gathered from Kalvari.’

As a follow-on, the $11 billion Project 75(I) programme will build six advanced stealth submarines. For this, four foreign OEMs were approached under an RfI employing a strategic partnership model where the winning contender will collaborate with an Indian company. The OEMs include the Naval Group, Rosoboronexport’s Rubin Design Bureau, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems and Saab.

Shephard has learned that information was sought on air-independent propulsion systems, endurance and stealth, and anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

Chinese investment in Gwadar Port in Pakistan is seen by many as a serious concern and a reason for India to speed up its submarine capability, but such a notion was brushed aside by an IN spokesperson. ‘Gwadar is a commercial port. In no way can transportation by water be substituted…[We see this] as only a threat, and all threats must be measured.’

Lanba added, ‘We’ve been closely monitoring the pattern and periodicity of extra-regional submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean Region,’ in reference to China.

The IN’s current total submarine fleet of 16 includes two nuclear-powered submarines, including an Akula II-class boat leased from Russia. In 2016 India commissioned its first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant.

However, The Hindu reported this year that Arihant spent ten months out of action due to a hatch being improperly sealed, allowing saltwater to flood the propulsion area. An investigation is ongoing, but results will probably not be divulged due to security reasons. Lanba said the damage has been fixed.

Safety is an area in which the IN has a poor record too. In 2013, following a series of explosions in its torpedo section, India lost the Kilo-class INS Sindhurakshak. A year later, a fire aboard INS Sindhushastra prompted the first ever resignation of an Indian naval chief.

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