December 7, 2014

South Asian Submarine Issues

Sandeep Unnithan of India Today, December 4, 2014, has produced a higly detailed article on South Asian submarine issues - and also an excellent map. I have added some hyperlinks and additional comments and some corrections in [square brackets] to the article. It may take India 20 years to deploy K4 SLBMs (not yet developed) in Indian SSBNs (not yet launched). Article string is :

China's submarine noose around India

Submarine game: How China is using undersea vessels to project power in India's neighbourhood
  December 4, 2014 

Four decades after the 1971 India-Pakistan war, India's intelligence agencies are once again scanning a stretch of coastline in southern Bangladesh. Cox's Bazar [in what was East Pakistan - now Bangladesh]  was rocketed and strafed by [the old] INS Vikrant's fighter aircraft to cut off the enemy's retreat into the Bay of Bengal. Today, 43 years later, it sets the stage for China's dramatic entry into India's eastern seaboard.

Assessments from [Indian external intelligence service known as] the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and naval intelligence say the Bangladesh Navy will station two ex-Chinese Ming-class submarines on bases that are less than 1,000 km away from [India's main east coast naval base] Visakhapatnam, home to the Indian Navy's nuclear powered submarine fleet  [INS Chakra II and INS Arihant] and the Defence Research and Development Organisation's (DRDO) missile test ranges at Balasore.

The developments on India's Arabian Sea flank are equally ominous. Intelligence officials say that over the next decade, China will help Pakistan field submarines with the ability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles from sea. Submarines, analysts say, are China's instrument of choice to not just challenge the Indian Navy's strategy of sea domination but also to undermine India's second-strike capability. These developments have been accompanied by a flurry of Chinese submarine appearances in the Indian Ocean this year-Beijing sent two nuclear submarines and a conventional submarine. Two of them made port calls in Colombo [Sri Lanka], triggering concern in New Delhi.

Toehold in the Bay

"No one interested in geopolitics can afford to ignore the Bay of Bengal any longer," [semi-governmental US] geopolitical analyst Robert Kaplan wrote in a seminal essay in Stratfor in November. "This is the newold centre of the world, joining the two demographic immensities of the Indian subcontinent and East Asia." For India, the Bay of Bengal is the launch pad for a 'Look East' policy that has received renewed attention under [Indian] Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Indian Navy is enhancing force levels at its Visakhapatnam naval base even as it has begun building a secret base for a proposed fleet of nuclearpowered submarines at Rambilli [at what will be INS Vasha] , south of Visakhapatnam.

[Future Indian SSBN Base INS Varsha]

[Wikipedia's at length advice is will "de-congest the Visakhapatnam Port, which is used by both the navy and the civilian Ministry of Shipping. The navy's dockyards at Vizag are facing shortage of berthing space due to the rapid expansion of the Eastern fleet, which grew from 15 major warships in 2006 to 46 in 2012, and is still expanding. Varsha will have a large near-by [east coast] facility of the [west coast headquartered] Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and will include modern nuclear engineering support facilities and extensive crew accommodation. It is designed to support the fleet of 8-12 Arihant-class [SSBN] nuclear submarines to be built for the Indian Navy. It will also have underground pens to hide the submarines from spy satellites and protect them from enemy air attacks. The navy is seeking foreign technical assistance [French or Russian?] pertaining to nuclear safety features for the base.[5] While designed principally as a nuclear submarine support facility, the new base can accommodate other naval vessels because of the Indian Navy's expansion. This facility has been compared to the top-secret [Sanya] Hainan nuclear submarine base for the Chinese PLA Navy. This east coast base expansion program by the Indian Navy was started due to India's Look East policy and the Chinese naval expansion into the region.[1][3][6]
In addition to Project Varsha, in late 2009, the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), located at Visakhapatnam, was transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to theMinistry of Defence in order to support the Arihant-class nuclear submarine construction program. These new vessels will be based at INS Varsha.[1][7] INR1.6 billion (US$26 million) were sanctioned for the project in the 2011-12 budget, of which INR580 million (US$9 million) were for civil works and the balance INR1 billion(US$16 million) were for setting up a VLF communication system.[8]]

[Article continues] "Equipped [in 5 years time? with the "B05" more widely called "K-15", SLBMs] with the 700-km range, the Arihant-class submarines will have to patrol closer to the shores of a potential adversary. But equipped [in 20 years time?] with the 3,500-km range K-4 missiles currently being developed by the DRDO, the Arihant and her sister submarines can cover both Pakistan and [part of China] with nuclear-tipped missiles from within the Bay of Bengal, providing the "robust second-strike capability" as stated in India's nuclear doctrine.

Inputs suggest Bangladesh has acquired land and fenced locations at the Kutubdia Channel near Cox's Bazar and the Rabnabad Channel near West Bengal. Kutubdia, intelligence officials say, is likely to feature enclosed concrete 'pens' to hide submarines. The possibility of Chinese submarines using this base provides a fresh equation to the strategic calculus.

"Our submarines become susceptible to tracking from the time they leave harbour," says veteran submariner and former Southern Naval Command chief vice-admiral K.N. Sushil (retired). "But a far more worrying strategy is China's ability to be able to threaten our assured second-strike capability. That effectively tips the deterrence balance."

West Coast Worries

Of greater long-term worry to Indian analysts is a strategic submarine project China finalised with Pakistan in 2010. Intelligence sources say this three-part programme will transform the Pakistan Navy into a strategic force capable of launching a sea-based nuclear weapons strike [initially from Pakistan's French designed Agosta Khalid class SSKs]. Pakistan will build two types of submarines with Chinese assistance: the Project S-26 and Project S-30. The vessels are to be built at the Submarine Rebuild Complex (SRC) facility being developed at Ormara, west of Karachi. Intelligence sources believe the S-30 submarines are based on the Chinese Qing [apparently an export version of China's Type 041 Yuan class SSK] of 3,000-tonne which can launch three 1,500-km range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from its conning tower.

[The purported Projects 26 and 30 tie in with rumours for several years that China might sell some SSKs to Pakistan. The more public reason the sale has not occurred is that Pakistan doesn't not have the money. Also it was only recently that Pakistan upgraded its 3 Agosta-Khalid SSKs with AIP. Perhaps political pressure on China and Pakistan from India and the US has delayed such a Chinese submarine sale. Also perhaps financial pressure on Pakistan [in terms of overt and covert US aid money] has terminated or delayed such a China-Pakistan submarine deal.]

A [Pakistani-Chinese] Very Low Frequency (VLF) station at Turbat, in southern Balochistan, will communicate with these submerged strategic submarines [and probably Chinese subs in the Indian Ocean]. The Project S-26 and S-30 submarines will augment Pakistan's fleet of five French-built submarines, enhance their ability to challenge the Indian Navy's aircraft carrier battle groups and carry a stealthy nuclear deterrent. "Submarines are highly effective force multipliers because they tie down large numbers of naval forces," says a senior naval official.

Steel sharks on silk route

Speaking in Indonesia's Parliament last October, Chinese President Xi Jinping articulated a "21st century Maritime Silk Road". His vision calls for investments in port facilities across south and south-east Asia to complement a north Asian route. This year, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) put steel into Xi's vision. In February, a Shang class nuclear-powered attack submarine made China's first declared deployment in the Indian Ocean. This was followed by port calls made by a [Chinese Type 091 Han class SSN in November 2014] in Colombo to coincide with a state visit by President Xi [CORRECTION: preceded by a visit from a Chinese Type 039 Song class SSK in September 2014].

China's heightened activity in the Indian Ocean region is underscored by investments in a new port in Gwadar at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, a container facility in Chittagong and Kyaukpyu port in Myanmar. "Such developments have sharpened China's geopolitical rivalry with India, which enjoys an immense geographic advantage in the Indian Ocean," says Brahma Chellaney of the Centre for Policy Research. "Aspects related to their (Chinese) deployment in international waters are part of securing their maritime interests," Navy chief Admiral Robin K. Dhowan told journalists in Delhi on December 3.

China's new military posture reflects the 'Malacca dilemma' faced by the world's largest oil importer. Close to 80 per cent of China's crude oil imports of 11 million barrels per day, the life blood of its economy, is shipped through the narrow Malacca Strait. Any disruption to this could threaten its economic growth. "Hence, China's economic interests in the Indian Ocean have now taken on an overt military dimension," says an intelligence official.

Naval intelligence officials who correctly predicted that China would use anti-piracy patrols as a pretext for deployments in the Indian Ocean feel vindicated. Their prognosis of this game of 'weiqi'-a game of Chinese chess which uses encirclement, is gloomy. "A full-scale Chinese deployment in the Indian Ocean is inevitable," an admiral told India Today.

"You can only watch it and prepare yourself for it." The preparations include acquisitions of long-range maritime patrol aircraft such as the US-made P8-I Poseidon, investment in anti-submarine warfare and inducting new submarines and helicopters to fill up critical deficiencies in force levels.

Measured Response

China's submarine thrust into South Asia coincides with Narendra Modi's renewed emphasis on securing India's perimeter. "India's response has to be nuanced, a mixture of coercion and largesse," says Jayadeva Ranade, a former RAW official and member of the National Security Advisory Board. While the [previous Indian Government of former Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh-led UPA government scoffed at encirclement theories, the new Government is clearly concerned over the creeping Chinese presence.

National Security Adviser Ajit Doval voiced India's concerns at the 'Galle Dialogue' in Sri Lanka on December 1. He cited a 1971 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution mooted by Sri Lanka calling on the "great powers to halt further escalation and expansion of their military presence in the Indian Ocean".

India's defence diplomacy has been severely limited by its inability to offer military hardware to offset the Chinese presence. Over half the military hardware of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are of Chinese origin. In 2008, India called off a plan to transfer the INS Vela to the Myanmar Navy when it discovered the vintage Russian-built submarine was past its service life.

When plans to transfer hardware materialise, they are too feeble to make a difference-a solitary helicopter such as the one gifted to Nepal by Modi in November and a small ex-Indian naval patrol craft gifted to Seychelles recently. Often, there is a demand for capabilities where India itself is deficient. Bangladeshi officials stumped Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) officials last year when they asked India, and not China, to provide submarines. The Indian Navy is down to just 13 aging conventional submarines. The MEA suggested Bangladesh buy Russian submarines instead. Their efforts are yet to bear fruit. It is a gap China willingly fills."

Link this with Submarine Matters' India's Plans for 21 More Subs including SSNs of August 24, 2014



Vigilis said...

Greetings Pete

You provide an excellent overview of Submarine Matters in significant for those on the opposite side of the globe, who may bemore accustomed to scantly reported briefs at best.

I was startled to learn, for instance, about Bangladesh's order for 2 subs from China. It is difficult to rationalize such an order from a country with horrific typhoon deaths almost every year.

Submarines may provide another unfortunate way for a few more to die, without helping to reducing the yearly typhoon death tolls.

So, I beg you to excuse my western ignorance, and help me to understand why Bangladesh believes it needs Chinese subs with Chinese assets (and a sub base?) nearby?

If either India or Pakistan is a threat to Bangladesh, how could subs repel a land & air invasion? If Bangladesh fears a naval blockade or piracy, would not China wish to intervene to protect its 'local' assets and maintain open see lanes?

Obviously I am missing some fundamentals of geopolitical relationships over there.

Regards, Vigilis

Peter Coates said...

Hi Vigilis

Thanks for your comment and questions. Much is answered in Submarine Matters' post of December 2013: .

For power projection into the Indian Ocean and alliance reasons China is improving 2 of its old obsolete Type 035 Ming class and selling them to Bangladesh cheaply. The Ming's hark back to the Russian Romeo SSKs which in turn owed much to the WW2 German Type XXIs.

Bangladesh's main reason for buying the Mings seems to be to handle occasional naval clashes with neigbouring Myanmar/Burma. Even 2 old Mings make a difference against Myanmar's tiny navy. Also Myanmar wants to buy 2 to 4 Kilo subs from Russia .

Probably national prestige and new acquistions for Bangladesh's naval officers also comes into it.



A said...

Hi Peter,
I want to add some interesting twist to this info- Some reports r emanating dat( from Indian Intelligence circle) India have successfully persuaded Bangladesh in purchasing Russian Subs.

Peter Coates said...

Hi A

Thanks for that. I assume Russia would be offering ex-Russian Navy Kilos?