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Indian naval upsurge

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By S. M. Hali

Pakistan Naval (PN) Chief Admiral Asif Sandila, in an interview to the US weekly, Defense News, responding to a question regarding the threat Pakistan faces from an Indian nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed ballistic submarine upsetting the current strategic balance in South Asia, stated that “The strategic dimension of India’s naval buildup is a cause of concern not only for us but for the entire Indian Ocean region.”

Indian Navy (IN), in effect, is on a massive upsurge plan to build a blue water armada. Its colossal development plans include the acquisition of both indigenous and leased nuclear powered submarines and various other platforms capable of launching nuclear weapons to complete its triad i.e. delivering nuclear weapons from the air, surface and sub-surface thus confirming its second strike capability. India’s initiation to nuclear subs came with its acquisition of a Chakra class nuclear submarine from former USSR in 1987 on 10 years lease.  The invaluable experience led to its desire for the development of indigenous nuclear submarines under the head of Advanced Technology Vessels (ATV) at Shipping Centre Vishakhapatnam in 1998.  Indian scientists claimed that they have been able to fit an indigenous Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) of 90 MW in the ATV’s hull.  However, it is assessed that the PWR has been acquired from Russia.  By mid 96, an amount of US$ 185.7 million was spent on ATV project and the cost has now escalated to US$ 3.7 billion.

At present, India has 14 active submarines in the fleet whereas IN has contracted France for 6 Scorpene submarines.  These subs are being constructed in Indian shipyard and are likely to be inducted in Indian fleet by 2018.  The Defence Committee of India has also approved procurement of 6 more conventional Submarines in addition to the six already being built with the help of France. The PWR of India’s first indigenously developed ATV, INS/M Arihant went active last year, while its sea trials are completing soon and Arihant’s induction is expected by end 2012.  Simultaneously, fabrication work on the three follow-on nuclear-powered submarines is in full swing whereas, the reactor for the 2nd S/M is being constructed with the help of Russia.  The 2nd INS/M Aridhaman is expected to be ready for sea trials by 2015.  The IN nuclear subs are to be armed initially with the 750 km Sagarika (K-15) Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) and at a later stage with the under-development 3,500 km K-4 SLBMs.  INS/M Arihant has four silos to carry twelve 750 km range, Sagarika SLBM or four K-4s.  Meanwhile, IN has acquired two Russian Akula-II class nuclear submarines on lease from Russia because it wants to have three SSBNs and six SSNs (Nuclear-powered Attack Submarines) in the long term.  It is envisaged that by 2025 India will have around 30 conventional Submarines in her flotilla.

The induction of the nuclear submarines in the Indian Ocean will have serious implications for the region. It is going to elevate the international status of India amongst regional and extra regional nations/navies, while the existing security calculus in Arabian Sea vis-à-vis PN will significantly shift in the favour of IN. The threat to Chinese, Australian, Indonesian and other regional navies will increase multifold. Nuclear submarines provide the reach to attack the adversary in far flung waters across the globe as well as remain undetected under water at great depths for prolonged periods, without needing to come up to the surface for recharging its batteries or refueling. Operationally, they will act as a force multiplier armed with nuclear tipped missiles, their induction will further enhance IN’s capabilities to strike inside Pakistan while staying well away from Pakistani coast line.

IN’s other acquisitions include the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed as INS Vikramaditya with 16 MiG-29K/KUBs and 6 to 8 Ka-31 AEW helicopters. India is also constructing 3 Indigenous Aircraft Carriers for the IN. It also plans to construct 3 destroyers of Kolkata class and Guided Missile Frigate’s, four ASW Corvettes, four 4 Saryu class Operational Patrol Vessels, four Landing Platform Docks, and acquire two Osprey Class Mine Hunters and eight P8-I Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft from USA, besides developing additional strategic naval bases.

In the face of such a massive buildup, PN has its task cut out. It cannot match IN ship to ship but the Pakistani Naval Chief in his interview stated “We are mindful of this development and taking necessary measures to restore the strategic balance.” The nation thus needs to invest prudently into building its navy.

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