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India's Looming Submarine Shortfall

July 19, 2022 08:54 IST

With the Indian Navy's requirement of conventional submarines standing at 24, there is critical need to expedite the planned acquisition of six more conventional submarines.

IMAGE: Eastern Naval Command Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Vice Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta at the decommissioning of INS Sindhudhvaj in Visakhapatnam, July 17, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo/ANI Pic Service

At sunset on Saturday, July 16, with an overcast sky adding to the solemnity of the occasion, the decommissioning pennant of Indian Naval Ship Sindhudhvaj was lowered and the Kilo-class submarine retired after 35 years of distinguished service.

Demonstrating the esprit de corps of the submarine arm, the decommissioning was attended by 15 of the Sindhudhvaj's former commanding officers, including the Commissioning CO -- Commodore S P Singh (retired) -- and by 26 veterans of the commissioning crew.

With the retirement of INS Sindhudhvaj, the 10 Kilo-class submarines that India bought from Russia between 1986 and 2000 are now down to seven conventional boats (as the Indian Navy calls submarines).

INS Sindhurakshak sank in Mumbai after a cataclysmic explosion in August 2013 that killed all 18 sailors on board.

INS Sindhuvir was transferred to the Myanmar navy in March 2020 as a goodwill gesture.

One more Kilo-class submarine is earmarked to be given to the Defence Research and Development Organisation for use as a test-bed in developing the air-independent propulsion that will power 12 indigenous submarines to be built in the future.

The Kilo-class boats are called the Sindhughosh-class, after the lead vessel in the series. They are diesel-electric submarines that displace 3,000 tonnes, can dive to a depth of 300 metres, have a top speed of 18 knots, and can operate solo for 45 days with a crew of 53.

The Kilo-class is a highly trusted conventional boat, with an estimated 62 in service in nine navies. They were the Indian Navy's first submarines that could fire anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles from underwater.

Incrementally replacing the Kilo-class boats are six French Scorpene submarines, being built under licence by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders in Mumbai. Termed the Kalvari-class after the lead vessel, four have been inducted, while the remaining two are likely to join the fleet before the end of 2023.

With the Indian Navy's requirement of conventional submarines standing at 24, there is critical need to expedite the planned acquisition of six more conventional submarines under Project 75-I.

Tenders are being finalised to build these in India under the strategic partner initiative, but it will still take at least a decade to complete the contracting and construction.

Until then, the Indian Navy faces a dangerous capability shortfall in the underwater realm.

Sindhudhvaj, as the name suggests, was the flagbearer of indigenisation and the Indian Navy's efforts towards achieving Aatmanirbharta in the Russian-built Sindhughosh-class submarine, the navy noted.

'She had many firsts to her credit, including operationalisation of the indigenised sonar USHUS, indigenised satellite communication systems -- Rukmani and MSS, inertial navigation system, and an indigenised torpedo fire control system,' the navy stated.

The Sindhudhvaj successfully undertook mating of the boat with the deep submergence rescue vessel and was the only submarine to be awarded a trophy for innovation by Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi.

In addition to seven remaining Kilo-class boats, the Indian Navy operates four Shishumar-class conventional submarines, which are German-designed.

The navy has also leased an Amur-class nuclear-powered submarine from Russia, to learn the ropes of operating nuclear-powered boats.

Ajai Shukla in New Delhi
Source: source image