Why India Needs Both Nuclear and Conventional Submarines

Discussion in 'Central & South Asia' started by Falcon, May 8, 2016.

Share This Page

  1. Falcon

    Falcon Lieutenant Colonel Staff Member Social Media Team

    Oct 10, 2015
    Likes Received:

    Indian maritime watchers are pleased with the impending induction of the first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, the Arihant. Having cleared its diving trials and missile tests, the Arihant could soon be commissioned into the naval fleet as India’s first nuclear ballistic missile platform (SSBN). At 6000 tons displacement, the new submarine is a unique technology demonstrator and showcases the best of Indian naval design capability. Even though it draws heavily from Russian technology and has a limited ballistic missile capability (its twelve indigenous K-15 Sagarika missiles have a range of only 700 kilometers) the Arihant’s commissioning is a milestone for Indian designers who have worked tirelessly for years to refine procedures for the submarine’s construction.

    Needless to say, the prospects of the induction this year of two submarines – one conventional, the other nuclear ballistic – has caused a fair bit of curiosity about the Indian Navy’s proposed submarine force structure, particularly in the wake of reports that India has been exploring the possibility of manufacturing nuclear attack (SSNs) submarines. At an international seminar in New Delhi recently, a participant wondered why the navy was continuing with its dependence on conventional submarines when most advanced navies had shifted to all-nuclear submarine forces.
    Indeed, there has been a long-running debate within the Indian Navy about the inherent attributes of an all-nuclear undersea arsenal. Notwithstanding the distinct advantages that nuclear submarines (SSNs) enjoy over conventional subs (SSKs), however, an all-nuclear submarine force, in an Indian context, is an essentially flawed idea. This is because a conventional submarine offers benefits in littoral waters that more than adequately offset its most glaring constraint –limited operating endurance. A diesel electric sub’s biggest advantage is that it is smaller hull that is easier to maneuver in shallow waters and harder to detect. The fact that it costs a fraction of price of a typical nuclear sub, makes a diesel electric an irresistible proposition for a midsize navy. Its attractiveness is only enhanced by the ease of operation and the absence of the risk of dangerous nuclear leaks. Simply put, developing maritime states like India cannot afford to overlook the practical utility and effectiveness of an SSK in South Asia’s littoral spaces.

    That said, nuclear submarines confer an edge to a fighting force that diesel electrics find difficult to match. The fact that SSNs are bigger, tougher, more heavily armed and longer-ranged than conventional subs makes them indispensable assets. They can also perform functions that diesel-electric subs generally cannot – like cross an ocean underwater and at high speed or remain submerged for weeks outside critical littoral spaces. The powerful weapons and sensors they host far outweigh the combat capabilities of conventional submarines.

    In 1999, when the Indian Navy first proposed a 30-year plan for the construction of 24 submarines, it did not intend to build nuclear attack submarines. At the time, the plan was to construct six submarines each with Western- and Eastern-stream technology in the initial phase, before developing 12 conventional submarines of an indigenous design. Unfortunately, for New Delhi, the plan failed to take off as intended. Many factors have been blamed for this lack of success in implementation: the apparent lack of funds, strong divisions in the navy over a proposal for a mix of conventional and nuclear submarines, and the apparent absence of visionary leadership. Whatever the reasons for its initial failure, New Delhi is now making up for lost time and opportunity by combining its ongoing construction of conventional submarines with a proposal to build six nuclear attack submarines.

    Admin and Spectre like this.