March 31, 2017

Indian submarine update - Slow progress commissioning.


India is facing a rapidly increasing submarine threat from:
-  Chinese SSNs and SSKs visiting (and perhaps patrolling) the Indian Ocean
-  2 x Ming SSKs just commissioned into the Bangladesh Navy, and
-  8 new S20s for Pakistan under construction over the next decade. This is in addition to Pakistan’s
   current force of 3 x AIP Agostas.

This gradually increasing regional submarine threat suggests India should speed up its launching and commissioning of new submarines. Of the few countries that build all submarine classes (SSKs, SSNs and SSBNs) China has a high defence budget [$215 Billion in 2015 (SIPRI)] - but SSN/SSBN development has still been slow. 

Like China India is a relative latecomer to submarine design and construction – so India, from a low base, needs to develop submarines quickly. India’s design, building and commissioning of SSKs, SSNs and SSBN has been even slower than China’s partly because India devotes a much lower budget to defence [only $53.6 Billion in 2015 (SIPRI)].

Pete has discussed the following with an Anonymous knowledgeable about Indian submarine matters.


Since Pete wrote India's Plans for 21 More Subs including SSNs of August 24, 2014 India has only launched 2 Scorpenes of the Kalvari class though - none have been commissioned (yet).

[Pete Comment] India’s desire for 6 to 12 AIP SSKs under Project-75I (for India) may be obstructed by India’s (more precisely DRDO’s) desire that the winning submarine company should transfer advanced AIP technology to India. Advanced AIP secrets are tightly held due to their high strategic and commercial value.

[Pete Comment] The launch of India's first true SSBN, INS Aridhaman, was expected to occur as far back as late 2012/early 2013 but no recorded launch yet. INS Aridhaman is apparently ready to be launched and start trials later in 2017. I suspect the delay is in developing an efficient, quiet reactor for Aridhaman and the 3 x SSBNs to follow.

The reactor problems are also likely to be the main reason no progress has been made in the project to build 6 indigenous SSNs. I’ve read somewhere that the SSN program has been suspended until some SSBNs (starting with Aridhaman) have finally been commissioned. 

Anonymous advises - The Russians have not been very receptive to India’s need for SSN help. Russia has not permitted to lease Yasen type SSNs or handed over Yasen blueprints.


While there has been only slow progress in launching submarines India has made greater strides in developing missiles for submarine launch. Missiles under development for submarine include

-  the BrahMos supersonic cruise (tested to 450 km with eventual range of 800 km) is capable of
   anti-shipping and (nuclear warhead) land attack. As of now BrahMos has been tested from
   underwater pontoons and will likely be installed on the Kilo subs initially. If the 6 to 12 future
   SSKs for Project 75I end up with VLS they may start with BrahMos initially.
-  the Nirbhay SLCM ( 1000 km initial up to 1500 km finally) for longer range land attack are. 
-  India is likely to fit K-15 SLBMs to its future SSBNs after initially fitting the BrahMos and 
   Nirbhay SLCM to Indian SSKs and SSBNs.

Aridhaman with  its 8 silos for K-4s will weigh at least 7000 tons. “Aridhaman needs a larger reactor.”


India (probably like China) is only making slow progress in developing powerful submarine reactors that are sufficiently quiet for stealthy operation. India has been heavily reliant, for decades, on Russian assistance for submarine reactors. But Anonymous advises “The [83 MW] PWR made by BARC for Arihant is inadequate.”

“I for one heard unverified news in Delhi last year that BARC has succeeded in providing close to 25,000 kW shaft horsepower which implies a 125-140 MW reactor... I am not ready to believe this as I mentioned before Russian help has slowed down despite [Indian Prime Minister] Modi [offering inducements of leasing] another Akula and [buying the] S-400 SAM system in 2016......" 

Pete Comment - So India is closely protecting the rate of its reactor progress and progress in developing nuclear hulls. Russian assistance in reactor development and testing also remains mostly classified. Only optimistic references to SSK building schedules and missile launchings are regularly publicised.

It is odd the above Youtube talks of INS Aridhaman currently being tested at sea and being inducted/commissioned in 2018. The oddity is that I have seen no reports of Aridhaman even being launched! Would politicians (Prime Minister? Defence Minister?) and other Indian VIPs pass up the opportunity to be reported present at the launch of India's first true SSBN?

Indian submarine numbers - with a wide gap between "Desired" and actually "Held" as at November 13, 2015. Numbers still current due to slow progress. (Diagram courtesy Indian Express).

Pete and Anonymous


Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

If you find oasis in desert, many thirsty camels suddenly appear from nowhere and drink up all water.

If you find a dead elephant in Safari, many hugry condors come flying and eat all meat within a minute.


Anonymous said...

A number of things if I may add ( as the contributor anonymous :) )

1. Brahmos As of now is too big to be fired from even 650 mm torpedo tubes. Range at 450 km initially while the eventual 800 km version will likely be considerably modified. One issue the IN I think still could face is in the realm of target tracking surveillance etc for effective use of the Brahmos as a LACM. Indian navy might need practice with networking of LRMPs etc to ensure 2 way link and updated target info for Brahmos and Nirbhay( subsonic can do tercom unlike supersonic missiles). Then they would be true force multipliers.

2. if I remember right Arihant has test fired K4 ( whether to full range of 3500 km is questionable), however integration is still under progress apparently. The YouTube video that is there in the public domain clearly shows Russian technical hand as the SLBM release resembles Russkie launches uncannily.

3. Aridhaman will carry 8 K4 missiles and will in all probability be in excess of 8000 tons submerged. There is a satellite picture of shipbuilding center vishakhapatnam that shows a clear outline of a docked submarine. The length in excess of 100 m could be a strong hint that it could be the aridhaman. I will refrain from posting the link

Project 75i is in limbo as the strategic partnership issue apparently is not yet fixed at the policy level. TKMS with its type 214 or even 209Mod would not be a bad choice and their PEMFC AIP is quite good. With Parrikar abruptly departing, this area might go cooler as Jaitley settles in to review this vexing strategic partnership issue... Apparently there are two differing opinions in the MoD bureaucracy.

PS: One theory I am recently liking to think about is that India could be going for a universal SSGN/SSBN. you might remember my comment on the validity of difference between the SSBN and SSN any longer. If the Russkie help is going to be lukewarm in the future, a dual role N Sub with sufficient speed, diving ability and silent ops features might even clip the need for multiple ocean going AIP SSKs.
My personal opinion is a 3 tier sub solution of small subs ala type 210, AIP SSKs and SSBN/GN would be needed.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous

At this time of profundities and humour, here is an extract from Milites - About Submarine Chief Petty Officers in the RN, RAN and USN (Chief of the Boat.).


- Have served on Boats that are now war memorials or tourist attractions.

- Have pictures of Boats in their wallets instead of their wife and kids.

- Chiefs are the only people that can make "Sir" sound like a four-letter word.

- Think that Officers should be seen and not heard, and never, ever, be allowed to read books on leadership.

- Don't eat quiche, they can't even pronounce it.

-Have a coffee pot next to their desk with a tube running from it to their arms.

- Don't know how to tell civilian time.

- Don't have any civilian clothes, and

- Don't remember any time they weren't Chiefs.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [1/4/17 2:31 AM]

Thanks for your Comment at 1/4/17 2:31 AM. I've turned it into the next article "India's Submarine Project 75i reportedly in "limbo"" of 2 April 2, 2017.




Anonymous said...

Brahmos flies at 14000 meters and more or less in a straight line to its target so Tercom is not applicable.

Peter Coates said...


I think you have Anonymous on the TERCOM ropes.

He will be hard pressed to rebut your logic.



Anonymous said...

Arihant has never fired any missile from its belly.


All the missiles are underwater launched, but from pontoon only.