July 21, 2017

India's Closeness to Russia May Handicap Submarine Project P-75(I)

In the last 24 hours India's Deccan Herald and other quality Indian news outlets have carried an important Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announcement. My comments are in [...] brackets.

India's MoD has issued the long anticipated request for information (RFI) to 6 submarine suppliers to participate in the construction of 6 advanced conventional diesel-electric submarines under the Project-75I (I for India). This will be a $9.5 Billion (so far) project

Companies invited, via the RFI, to provide information are:

-  France's Naval Group (formerly DCNS)
-  Russia's Rosoboronexport
-  Spain's Navantia
-  Sweden's Saab
-  Germany's TKMS, and
-  Japan's MHI (which would include KHI).

The RFI is just the beginning of a lengthy selection process [1] that may take 5 years till a winner is chosen, then another 5 years to commission the first sub. The winner will need to:

-  partner with an Indian company, and
-  build the submarines in India [Australia has similar rules] 
-  [The winner will need to facilitate provision of air independent propulsion (AIP). Long discussed is
   the winner being prepared to share the AIP technology with India's Defence Research and
   Development Organisation (DRDO)]
-  [also long discussed as a requirement is the fitting of a vertical launch systems (VLS) or at least the
   ability to torpedo tube launch long range, land attack, cruise missiles]

For more information see the WHOLE DECCAN HERALD article.


India has for over a decade been conscious that its strategic competitors have been exceeding India's very slow submarine production (and purchasing) rate.

China has produced dozens of submarines in the last two decades with increasing numbers featuring the advantage of AIP. India has no AIP conventional submarines and India's submarines are mostly of less stealthy, old, designs.

Pakistan already has 3 AIP submarines and has ordered 8 submarines designed by China. These 8 will likely have AIP fitted or retrofitted.

It is not yet clear whether India wants average sized submarines (about 1,900 tonnes submerged) or is thinking of a larger, more capable, design.

Risk P-75I Technology May Flow to Russia

Some RFI invitees may be worried about India's close high tech & sensitive submarine relationship with Russia. Meaning there is a perceived risk that India may transfer some P-75I tech to Russia (eg. AIP & pressure hull formulas?). RFI invitees may therefore limit the submarine technology they build into their submarine proposals to India.

Then Russia may on-transfer tech secrets to China. This is noting Russia likely transferred nuclear sub technology and certainly Kilos to China in the past. China increasingly has the kind of money to attract "Russian" high defence tech.

The depth of Indo-Russian submarine relations can be seen in Russia taking the unusual path of:

-  allowing India to finance the final completion of INS Chakra "II" 

-  Russia leasing Chakra II to India for 10 years (in practice forever?). Russia obviously provided
   some Russian crew and maintainers, particularly working with Chakra's reactor, and

-  Russia's extensive help with the Indian submarine reactor program. This was acknowledged by
   former Prime Minister Singh who presided over INS Arihant's "launch" in 2009. An
   acknowledgement voiced by no-one else I'm aware of. 

As a sweetener for Naval Group to be announced P-75I winner, India may quietly ask for some French nuclear propulsion/propulsor/hull technology.

[1] In terms of the glacial age of Project P-75I see the Submarine Matters' article of 2012.

Chart above reflects why India needs to buy (from overseas) or locally build P-75I submarines quickly - not the usual spread-the-commissions-till-all-happy-time of 10 to 15 years. The chart is still fairly accurate - numbers of conventional subs (SSKs) are 13 Indian vs 61 Chinese. Adding China's ally Pakistan's 5 makes India's shortfall even more serious.


July 20, 2017

Trump is Putin's Best Agent of Disruption

As Russia's democratically re-elected Leader for Life, Putin, can take the long view, developing long term projects. 

Putin’s triumphant project is Trump. Putin is at heart a jokester, really.

Trump is Putin's great Agent of Disruption. Even better than an Agent of Influence.

Russia did its utmost to boost Trump's electoral prospects. Russia is still nurturing Trump's disruptive tendencies.

Trump is continually disrupting the US government, the nation and international reputation. 

At the G20 Trump was again played by Putin “It’s very clear that Trump’s best single relationship...is with Putin. US allies were surprised, flummoxed, disheartened.

China doesn't mind Trump bringing interesting times to America, either.

Best buddies - Montage courtesy Slate


July 19, 2017

Walrus Replacement Submarine Program Delayed But Desperate

This article follow comments by special Netherlands' correspondent Kevin on July 17, 2017, below Submarine Matters article Dutch Submarine Talks With TKMS & Kockums, not with DCNS of March 2, 2017.

The Netherlands' process to decide on a Walrus replacement submarine has been slowed down by the Dutch general election of March 15, 2017. The election result has been a hung parliament of parties unable to form a stable decision making coalition.

This means delays in parliament approving a large expensive (estimated at 2.5 Billion euros initial costs) new submarine program.

A June 2016 briefing by Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis envisages a submarine class:
-  that is stealthy and long range
-  with powerful weapons
-  that is capable of ISR
-  perhaps completely submerge for weeks, and
-  can carry and deploy special forces.

All of these functions cannot be performed by unmanned platforms – very obviously not carriage and deployment of special forces.

With the first of the Walruses due to be retired in 2025 there is increasing pressure to research, decide on and order a new submarine class. Consultation with Australia, Germany, Norway and Sweden is important, but difficult.

Information following the March 2017 election is that some new parliamentarians (in the parliamentary committee hearings at Troelstra Hall) are less familiar with submarine issues. Also some are less than enthusiastic about ordering new submarines. This is slowing down decision making. 

Much more discussion about submarines and agreement is needed. Salima Belhaj (scroll a third down) of the Democrats 66 sees a need for submarines but they should definitely not be nuclear armed. [As in Australia most Dutch parliamentarians would oppose nuclear weapons in their submarines].

Other issues deemed important by some parliamentarians are:
-  recognition that no off-the-shelf submarine design meets the Netherlands' needs [this strongly
   implies a larger than usual European submarine design (ie. more than 2,000 tons surfaced – perhaps
   Walrus sized) will be chosen]
-  giving Dutch companies the right to bid in any submarine competitive selection process
-  building the [probably 4] new submarines in the Netherlands [by Damen at the old RDM 
    shipyard?] and
-  the Netherlands holding the submarines intellectual property rights.

With a deliver first submarine intention in the mid 2020s the Netherlands has even more issues to decide than Australia (deliver submarines by the early 2030s). The Netherlands decision makers have not even reached consensus on a submarine size or chosen a submarine designer or builder. All this suggests that the Netherlands may take several more years than currently expected to start building submarines.

Three out of four of the Netherlands' Walrus submarines undergoing maintenance on ship stands. The photo may indicate how limited and congested shipbuilding space is in the Netherlands. Also the situation of only one Walrus being available may become standard as the Walrus' reach their use by date. (Photo courtesy Willem Severins)

Kevin and Pete

July 17, 2017

Could Australia be Pyne's major weapons exporter? Unlikely.


The Guardian (Australian edition) July 17, 2017 and The Canberra Times, July 15, 2017 have reported that:

Australia's Defence Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, has voiced enthusiasm about Australia becoming a major weapons exporter - perhaps on the scale of UK, French and German exports (see Table below). As Pyne mainly promotes shipbuilding from South Australia this is likely what he is talking about.


Major impediments to Pyne Vision are: 

-  Australia does not have an industrial base or equipment research sector large enough to develop 
   major weapon systems

-  put another way Australia does not enjoy the economies of scale to sell a high volume of weapons
   to the Australian domestic market that would make unit prices competitive or lower for foreign

-  Australia does not have the necessary labour efficiencies or productivity to compete against
   existing major arms exporters (think South Korea and Spain for surface ships). Also Singapore is
   highly efficient in labour productivity making it unlikely to buy from Australia.

-  Australia does not have the major advantage of being an established weapons supplier with an
   established sales structure in other countries. This is unlike all the exporters listed in the Table
   below (US, Russia, Germany, China, France etc)

-  Australia does not have the corporate financial depth to sell weapons at below market prices in
   order to secure contracts - then recoup revenue over the long term (eg. by charging higher for
   maintenance and spare parts, etc)

-  Australia is constrained by licences and intellectual property being held by major exporters to
   Australia (eg. US, Spain, UK and for the future submarine France.

-  Australia is not geographically positioned well to sell weapons to paying regional allies (except for 
   New Zealand). NOT to impoverished Pacific Islands, PNG, East Timor etc.

So what is Pyne really talking about?

New Zealand. It is the only country Australia has built major weapons system for, and sold those weapons to. But New Zealand is still a very small customer. The largest orders to NZ over the last 3 decades have been 2 Anzac-class frigates in the 1990s and 2 Protector-class OPVs in the 2000s. 

Offsets. Australia is partly justifying the large amounts of taxpayer money it is spending on F-35As by claiming that the much smaller scale Australian content and "sales" of some F-35 components will be a victory for Australian industry  

Pyne appears to focus most of his attention to ship and submarine building in Adelaide. It is highly unlikely that Australia could build and export Future Frigates, Futures Submarines or OPVs, to foreign countries. This is mainly because those countries that designed and hold the intellectual property rights to those weapons system would not want to lose business to artificially created Australian reselling or competition. 

Pyne's claims of a potential export benefits of Australian built weapons can mainly be seen as ways to divert criticism of the high prices Australia will be spending on F-35s, ships and submarines over the next 20 years. Pyne wants to maintain Australia's major policy direction - that is spending on the weapons sector should not be questioned in the way spending on the less deserving health, education, welfare, infrastructure and energy sectors is being questioned.

Pyne's words do not yecertify that he is out of touch with the realities of weapons exports.

Australia has long been geared to be a major weapons importer making it difficult for Australia to become a major weapons developer and exporter. Source is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) database via The Canberra Times


July 14, 2017

Future South Korea Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine - Could Hit China

An Anonymous comment on 1 July 2017 12:35 AM has prompted me to consider the issue of South Korea building a nuclear tipped ballistic missile capability.

South Korea has laid down its third KSS-III (also see) of 3,000+ ton conventional attack submarines (SSKs) to carry 6 cruise or ballistic missiles. If the KSS-IIIs carry ballistic missiles they can be reclassified conventionally propelled ballistic missile submarines (SSBs).

It is unknown whether the missiles will be in separate vertical launch tubes along the hull or be in one more flexible Vertical Multi-Purpose Lock. Confusingly the KSS-III can also be called KSS3, Jang Bogo-III or perhaps Chang Bogo-III.

The ballistic missile to be carried in the early 2020s may be the Hyunmoo-2B with a range of 500km and warhead/payload of 500kg. 500km may be more a political minimum estimate signalling China or the China-North Korea border areas are not targets.

KSS-III’s could potentially carry:

-  800 km range Hyunmoo-2C ballistic missiles, or

-  1,000 km range Tomahawk like Hyunmoo-3 cruise missiles that could make China a target.
North Korea has little to worry about South Korea missiles that only have conventional explosive warheads. Kim could be protected in a deep bunker.

If there are rumours or an actual South Korean nuclear weapons program then South Korea could utilise independent nuclear deterrence – something North Korea will respect.

If Trump is no longer interested in extended US nuclear deterrence then Australia should also contemplate building an independent nuclear deterrent.

The map above indicates how close some North Korean nuclear facilities are to the Chinese border, particularly Yongjo-ri uranium enrichment site and Hyesan nuclear research site. If either site were hit with South Korean (SK) or US conventional explosives this may spill radioactive fragments from the facilities onto Chinese soil. This would bring China into any conflict. Use of US or future SK nuclear weapons on those sites would even more likely damage and antagonise China. (Map courtesy The Guardian).


This second map (courtesy The Economist) illustrates how constricted the waters are for South Korean (SK) submarines. Any SK cruise or ballistic missile submarines might be easily monitored by Chinese or North Korean submarines or undersea sensor/SOSUS arrays as the SK submarines leave port or move into vulnerable near seas (Sea of Japan, Yellow Sea or East China Sea) for missile launches.  

Relatively distant Western Pacific waters would be safer but that may mean SK submarines need missiles of 2,000 km range - something likely unachievable now - unless Tomahawks from the US are used.