Navy's depleting conventional sub capability


Senior Member
Jun 17, 2009

Admiral raises a very important point. In our quest for Nuke-powered subs, are we treading dangerous path by ignoring the conventional sub programmes. He cites a very apt precedence in the Royal Navy of 70-80's. Worth reading.
The loss of the submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, was tragic but the navy will come to grips with the disaster. The bigger question now is: Will the strategic significance of this loss ever register with our policymakers?

What really happened to Sindhurakshak may only be known in the course of time but it has focussed attention on the unacceptable depletion of the navy's force levels, particularly its submarine arm which is the most potent component of any blue-water navy globally. As long as the ocean medium remains impervious to the electromagnetic spectrum, the hunter-killer of the deep will remain a force multiplier in combat at sea. This is what the Sindhurakshak represented and this is also why the seaward leg of the nuclear triad offers the greatest degree of survivability.

But for the loss of Sindhurakshak, the navy's depleted conventional submarine capability may never have received the attention it has today. Ensuring the desired level of combat capability for the navy requires a stead inflow of replacements for its aging platforms. For this purpose, the navy's 30-year submarine induction programme was specifically conceived in 1997. Unfortunately, it never received the desired impetus and was endlessly delayed. The reason may well be that the navy was in a state of transition to a nuclear-powered submarine capability.

It is an operational imperative for navies across the world to possess strategic blue-water capability which enables them to maintain a mix of conventional and nuclear-powered submarines. China has done so since the 1970s. But the Indian Navy has all this while had an inventory of only conventional subs of the Russian Foxtrot and Kilo class and the German SSK class. The first of our nuclear-powered subs, INS Arihant, will shortly enter operational service.

This transition to the nuclear regime has been a professional challenge for the navy; more so because our submariners are required to undergo training for this highly specialised task on the nuclear-powered INS Chakra which was leased from Russia solely for this purpose.

Acquiring our own home-grown strategic nuclear submarine capability has certainly been a major achievement. But on hindsight, the diversion of resources and added thrust to the induction of Arihant, with others to follow, may have taken a toll on the navy's submarine arm. It has drastically delayed the induction of conventional submarines by almost a decade.

The destruction of Sindhurakshak is a wake-up call to guard against the type of strategic blunder that Great Britain committed in the 1960s and 1970s when it opted for the Polaris-Trident nuclear submarine programme. Massive resources were diverted by the British government from the Royal Navy's budget to fund this ambitious nuclear submarine programme. This starved the Royal Navy of resources and practically emasculated its conventional war-fighting capability.

A navy that once ruled the waves, ending the World War II with a fleet of 52 operational aircraft carriers, found itself in dire straits. It was left with an inventory of just two aging carriers fit for the scrapyard. It was much later that Britain realised the consequences of its folly during the 1982 Falklands crisis. An atrophied Royal Navy could barely assemble a motley group of ships to sail for the Falklands operation. A navy that took centuries to build was eclipsed by the overambitious strategic priorities of its own government. India will hopefully tread cautiously and not repeat the mistake that Great Britain made in the last century.

The unexplained blasts that sank the Sindhurakshak have drawn attention to the sad state of India's submarine capability, but in the larger context the navy cannot escape culpability. What is not realised is that a robustly structured navy can play a dominant role in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

This is quite unlike the situation on our land frontiers where we seem to be operationally disadvantaged and forever on the back foot. What our security experts need to appreciate is that on the maritime front the Indian Navy has an enormous geographical advantage that gives it a distinct operational edge, a fact not lost on our troublesome neighbours — China and Pakistan.

With our geopolitical attention consumed by the Line of Control and the McMahon Line, we are blinkered by the crises at hand and unable to see the larger picture: India's maritime dimension has been overshadowed with the navy's role remaining ambiguous. This is the unfortunate irony that underpins the national security paradigm.

The Indian Navy has the expertise to operate nuclear-powered subs and aircraft carrier battle groups. Besides, with major assets in the pipelines and given the geographical advantage in the IOR, the navy is well set to play a decisive role at sea. It is time to discard our landlocked mindset and continental outlook and take the navy on-board. For the country, the time may well be nigh to look beyond Sindhurakshak because the silent service has much to contribute.

The writer is a former chief of the Indian Navy.



Senior Member
Apr 15, 2010
navy may lease kilo class submarine

Navy may lease Kilo-class subs from Russia - Hindustan Times

The loss of a submarine at a time when our forces are in dire need for numbers is a major blow both to navy and politicians.our ambitious projects of inducting scorpenes is running late,arihant with capacity unknown,economic situation not supporting for very rapid expansion of fleet.
surrounded by problems navy is struggling to meet its operational readiness at their best.

lets wish for rapid construction of arihant class nuclear subs & scorpenes which will be our back bone in the mean time the govt should go and buy subs off the shelf rather than ordering new as it will waste a lot of time

Latest Replies

Global Defence