February 28, 2022

Putin's Nuclear Brinkmanship in Desperation

In response to Andrew’s comment  of February 28, 2022. 

Yes, if Russia succeeds in invading all of Ukraine then, after a year or more, the West's main option will be to lift sanctions and resume trading with Russia. Otherwise a Russian dominated Ukraine would inadvertently suffer from those Western sanctions. 

Also Russia's gas pipelines to Europe, especially to Germany, are too valuable to remain inactive. 

Furthermore there's the major consideration of China boosting its trade with Russia (Russian oil, gas, minerals and agricultural products) to counter Western sanctions. The China trade would support much of Russia's foreign exchange and broader financial needs. If such Chinese trade makes Western sanctions ineffective then the West can only lift the sanctions. 

Putin's major fear may be a slow war of attrition in Ukraine. This would be unpopular with the Russian public, thus eroding Putin's Leader for Life legitimacy. After 4 days Russia appears to have failed (so far) in its Blitzkrieg strategy to invade most of northern Ukraine, including a capture of Kyiv. See the map below. 

Xi would be watching the effects of Russia's aggression closely. If Putin-Russia suffers then China might need to revise its own aggressive strategic posture. Xi might see a military takeover of Taiwan as too ambitious and unpredictable.

Xi might then see political and economic domination of Taiwan (and of weak countries in Southeast and Central Asia and island nations) as acceptable legacies of his rule. 

Then, again, Putin's brinkmanship gambit of "West stop supporting Ukraine or risk nuclear war with Russia" might prove an attractive strategy for Xi concerning Taiwan.

With each televised address Putin looks increasingly tired - those eyes. He is probably surviving on NoDoz Caffeine pills, or something stronger, with the effect of losing touch, paranoia, and inability to recognise sensible advice. 

After 4 days Russian advances in red have fallen short of Putin's plans that most of northern Ukraine, including Kyiv, would be taken by now. (Map courtesy of ALJAZEERA,
Feb 27-28, 2022).

SSK/SSB TABLE for Donors: February 2022

Dear Donors

A few hours ago I emailed a short database in Table form direct to your addresses. The Table is my first attempt at a database of mainly future SSKs and SSBs that are steadily becoming larger. 

Please send in links that can make the database more accurate and complete. All the question marks ?? show there are wide gaps in knowledge. 

Regards Pete 

February 26, 2022

Ukraine: Tracking Russian Invasion - Maps

From the BBC, Feb 25, 2022 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60506682
by David Brown

Russian troops have reached the outskirts of Kyiv after launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine from three main directions.

The Ukrainian army says it has blown up a bridge over the Teteriv river at Ivankiv, 50 miles (80km) to the north of the city, to slow the Russian advance.

There has been fierce fighting at Hostomel airport, to the west of Kyiv. On Feb 24, 2022 the airport was attacked by airborne Russian troops.

Russian troops around Ukraine

Russia is now in full control of significant parts of Ukraine's territory.

After Ukraine's air defences and other military infrastructure came under attack on Feb 24, 2022, columns of tanks have moved rapidly into position, backed up by artillery and air power.

Among the initial targets were Kyiv, Karkhiv, Odesa and Ivano-Frankivsk.

Troops are now spreading out in parts of the north, east and south, with missile strikes and artillery clearing the way for advancing Russian forces.

Strike from the North

From the north, Russian troops are believed to have crossed the border into Ukraine at the three-way junction between Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, at Senkivka.

In recent weeks, a huge deployment of Russian troops has gathered close to Novye Yurkovichi and Troebortno, including "the entire 41st army", according to Michael Kofman of the US-based Center for Naval Analyses.

Armoured columns, including tanks and multiple launch rocket systems, moved through Chernihiv, on a direct path to Kyiv.

A second advance has come down the west side of the Dnieper river via Chernobyl.

Strike from the East

In the east, there has been fighting around Kharkhiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. Parts of the city have been shelled.

There is also fighting around Donetsk, which has come under attack from troops crossing from Belgorod in western Russia.

Separately, Russia's Interfax news agency reported claims from Russian-backed separatists that they had launched an offensive on the Ukrainian-controlled town of Shchastia in Luhansk.

There was also fierce fighting around Sumy, near Kharkiv.

There are thought to be about 15,000 Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, who may help a Russian advance. Ukraine believes the figure is higher.

Strike from the South

In the south, troops have crossed from from Crimea to the mainland, towards Kherson, taking Chongar and Novo Alekseyevka.

Explosions have been heard in cities across the region, including Odesa, Mariupol, Melitpol and Kherson.

On Feb 24, 2022, Ukrainian officials - quoted by the Reuters news agency - said Russian troops had landed in the ports of Odesa and Mariupol.

In recent days, Russia had positioned landing ships capable of deploying main battle tanks, armoured vehicles and personnel, off the Ukrainian coast in a major build-up in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Ukrainian forces are concentrated in the east of Ukraine, towards Donetsk and Luhansk,

Ben Barry, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says that a Russian advance north from Crimea may succeed in cutting them off from Kyiv, stranding them on the east side of the Dnieper River.

With Russian troops to their east, in Donetsk and Luhansk, north in Russia, and on the west bank of the Dnieper, they would be encircled.

Graphics by Zoe Bartholomew, Mark Bryson and Sana Dionysiou

February 25, 2022

Ukraine: May 9, 2014 Article Remains Valid

Below is what I wrote on May 9, 2014 at 

https://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2014/05/ukraine-can-anything-save-it.html :

"Ukraine - Another Russian Invasion 2021?"

"Russian forces deployed in early May 2014 for a possible invasion of part or all of Ukraine. Map courtesy of the Royal Unitied Services Institute (RUSI) reproduced in full at [link now dead]."

"Russia has a history of invading and/or starving countries and territories unfortunate enough, to be parked near/next to Putin's Empire. Unfortunately the Ukraine is no exception.

Overall Obama seems to follow the Democrat "wet" dictum of avoiding confrontation at all costs. Obama may be calculating what is doable but charisma and rat cunning can work surprisingly well. Obama can't seem to motivate America's European allies into forming a united front - especially noticeable over Syria, now Ukraine.
Along those lines I suspect that Obama, Hagel and Kerry assess Ukraine as too far in the Russia sphere to save. In terms of other failures in the works it'll be interesting to see if Afghanistan collapses to the Taliban while Obama is still in office or just after he leaves. It would be unfortunate if Obama, America's first "Black" President, is grouped with the failed Jimmy Carter and then also suffer's the Nixon-like fate of not Viet-... but  "Afghanistan-isation".
I suspect Putin is attempting to tap Russia's main strengths while the going is good. That is utilising Russia's oil-gas economic power before the world's unconventional oil and gas resources become fully on stream. The new technology oil and gas from the US and Canada will make traditional source countries less powerful for a period.

Putin also wishes to use Russia's comparatively powerful military (conventional and nuclear) before Russia's military is relegated to third or fourth place behind China and India. Even if Russia has types of alliances with China and India - leaders like Putin (he may well still be in power in 2030) would not want Russia to be merely a junior ally.
Also the going is good for Putin while the weak Obama is still in office - a hawkish Republican would be a different matter.

On Russia gradual takeover of Ukraine there appears to be increasing hope in NATO countries that a Ukraine divided into federal regions may well be the most promising solution for both Kiev and Moscow. However there seems to be increasing disagreement in eastern Ukraine on whether to:

- remain in Ukraine as a federal region or

- unite with Russia, or

- form a People's Republic of Donetsk (see http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/2014/05/08/21/13/ukraine-rebels-vow-to-hold-referendum ) [link now dead]

Such disagreement and fragmentation appears to be increasingly like the Balkans in the early 1990s (where Croats, Serbs and Bosnian Muslims fought each other and borders shifted).

Many in eastern Ukraine want an Independent or Russian Eastern Ukraine referendum on 11 May 2014 while there also seems to be some agreement between Kiev and Moscow on national Ukrainian elections on 25 May 2014.

In terms of standards of living uniting with Russia may have advantages. Ukraine has a nominal GDP per capita of $3,862 (even lower in eastern Ukraine) while the Russian figure is $14,818. See right sidebars of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia 

The Ukrainian standard of living might take a couple of decades to move from poverty to the Russian level. 

Money versus independence?

Below is an article I wrote. It was published today on ON LINE opinion - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate - at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16286

Ukraine: can anything save it?

By Peter Coates - posted Friday, 9 May 2014

Much has been written about Russia’s slow motion domination of Ukraine. The gradual nature of this process and the tactics Russia is using makes it all the more difficult for the West to respond effectively. This article in part argues that a major Russian objective is to dominate Ukraine in order to protect Russia’s diminishing strategic buffer zone. This buffer zone is principally valued because it protects Russia’s heartland from aggressive foreign forces. In this context these forces are military but to a much lesser extent, in Putin’s xenophobic Russia, they may be economic and cultural forces.

The following does not aim to legitimise Russia’s actions but seeks to provide some perspective. Most great powers assume that might is right in their own backyards. It’s the smaller, weaker neighbours like Ukraine that suffer.

Russia’s buffer zone has been tested twice over the last hundred years. Both times, in World Wars One and Two, this zone served to slow down German invasions. Russia had been invaded by many others earlier, including the French, Poles, even the Swedes. Since the end of the Cold War NATO has steadily expanded to include the former buffer countries of Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Rumania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The Russian leadership don’t want Ukraine to also join NATO as they see Ukraine as a dependent region of ancient Russia. As well as being a large country (by European standards) Ukraine has too many natural resources, including grain, and too large an army to lose to the West. Ukraine in NATO would almost complete the removal of Russia’s buffer zone – leaving only Belarus and Finland as buffers.

Ukrainein its efforts to move closer to the West has been totally outmanoeuvred by Russia’s use of special forces directed “civilians”. This is even when these “civilians” successfully use man portable surface to air missiles[Link still works. Very interesting.]Ukraine is finding that its army and police forces are generally unwilling to fire on these pro-Russian “civilians”. Instead there is increasing reliance on pro-Ukrainian militias. The danger of militias lies in their uncontrollable tendency to indiscriminately fight for their own goals rather than for Ukraine’s.

Another problem is that Russia may justifiably invade Ukraine if there is a genuine need to protect ethnic Russians. Ukraine’s demographic is 78% ethnic Ukrainian and around 17% ethnic Russian (at last count) However distribution of ethnic Russians is such (see map) that Russia may need to invade a third or more of Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians. There is also the possibility of a Russian invasion of all of Ukraine. See this immensely detailed map which is probably based on NATO intelligence information[link now dead]

The ability of the US to criticise Russia on moral grounds has declined due to America’s long term and more recent actions. The former include more than a century of US invasions of weaker countries in its own Latin American backyard. During the 1980s the US invaded Panama and Grenada for rather trumped up reasons. In a campaign similar to Russia’s today the US (in the mid 1980s) organised and armed right-wing “contras” to bring down the government of left leaning Nicaragua.

The West has suffered from disunity in imposing sanctions on Russia. EU countries trade heavily with Russia and many rely on Russia’s oil and gas exports (a powerful Russian economic weapon). A trade deal that has angered the US has been France selling two large amphibious assault ships to Russia - with one delivered since the Ukrainian crisis began. One of these ships just happens to be named the Sevastopol the home port of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, where this whole Ukrainian crisis started. More to the point these ships are particularly suited to such operations as a Russian invasion of Ukraine or of other countries Russia may wish to invade to rebuild its buffer zone.

The Russians have done their best to boost US-EU disunity by conducting electronic spying on the US. Russian monitoring of a phone call that included a US Assistant Secretary of State (Victoria Nuland), yielded an embarrassing comment from her concerning EU policy on the Ukraine - which was “F--k the EU”.

As the crisis in Ukraine escalates this may impact on Australia in several ways, including higher world oil prices causing some damage and higher world grain prices that would benefit Australian farmers. Eventually some US military forces that might have been useful in our region may be shifted to Eastern Europe (see this report).

Ukraine has no easy choices. It can’t rely on the West and Russian treatment of Ukraine in living memory has been close to genocidal. Under Stalin the Russians intentionally starved Ukraine in part to break any feelings of Ukrainian nationalism. This imposed famine in 1932-1933 was called the Holodomor (Death by Hunger). At least four million Ukrainians died.

Like Poland Ukraine has the misfortune of living next to historically cruel neighbours. Can anything save it?"

Ukrainian News Agency "UKINFORM" Website Very Useful

See Ukraine's UKINFORM at https://www.ukrinform.net/  

It's constantly being updated and in English.

February 24, 2022

Russia Invades Ukraine. Matching Cities/Maps with Reports.

Submarine Matters last reported on the Russian conflict in Ukraine on January 25, 2022

Now, explosions, be they Russian missiles, aircraft, shelling or Russian special forces sabotage, have been heard in, or near, several major Ukrainian cities since 3am London time, February 24, 2022.  

"The Ukrainian president [an hour ago] said Russia has carried out missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and border guards and that explosions had been heard in many cities."

Other than Kiev (aka Kyiv) and Odessa other cities under attack are relatively obscure. To redress that see this list of Ukrainian cities, which includes their populations.

I thought maps would be useful to connect news with parts of Ukraine. See Maps below.

Russia has a cruiser, surface escorts, landing ships and at least three "636.3" Kilo class submarines in the Black Sea. All can threaten Ukraine with Kalibr anti-ship and land attack missiles, surface shelling and ships landing marine forces on the Ukrainian coast. (Map courtesy H I Sutton, COVERT SHORES, as at February 9, 2022. See map enlarged here.)

In terms of Russian aggression near the Black Sea. Ukrainian residents of Odessa and Mariupol have reported Russian missile strikes or artillery shelling from Russian warships and/or nearby Russian controlled land bases. (Map courtesy Agency France Press).

The red stars mark reports of explosions, as at Feb 24, 2022. The star next to Moldova (where some Russian forces are stationed) is Ukraine's main naval port of Odessa.

February 23, 2022

"Choice of a UK SSN" Just a Diversion for Aussies?

On February 21, 2022 Anonymous provided thoughtful comments indicating production of

an "off the shelf" Australian nuclear submarine is Australian policy:

The stated aim, when AUKUS was announced, was to commence building a proven “off the shelf” design as quickly as possible. To select the UK Astute class and then have to redesign it to accept the US S9G reactor and the US AN/BYG-1 combat system with US sourced weapons will add a lengthy design period before construction can begin - this is not compatible with the original plan. 

Additionally, the Astute class does not have any vertical launch capability and this will restrict its ability to be upgraded throughout its entire life. Virginia Payload Tubes have so much flexibility that they should be considered to be essential fit for the RAN SSN’s. The weapon options in these tubes include Tomahawk missiles, future Hypersonic missiles, mobile mines, etc as well as housing equipment & delivery vehicles for Special Forces. 

USN manning levels [with 135 in each Virginia SSN] always have significant amount of redundancy so an establishment manning reduction would be an option for the RAN, at least until the recruiting & training systems catch up to these higher levels. 

Looking at the planned timeframe for the construction of the RAN submarines, they should be looking at building “off the shelf” Virginia class submarines - the first 4 built to Block VI specs but standard length with 2 VPT’s in the bow and the second batch of 4 built to Block VII specs with the stretched hull containing an additional 4 VPT’s per hull. [For Blocks VI and VII see Future (Virginia) acquisitions]. Just my thoughts.

Pete Comment

If Australia plans to continue to use the US Combat System, amounting to 33% of an Australian SSN, will Australia choose US Virginia by default? The US Combat System is in the Collins subs already and was planned for the Attack class. The Combat System consists of US weapons, sensors and databases. The System, is proven in itself and probably essential for Australian SSN's intensive inter-operation with its main ally, the US.

It must also be noted that the US S9G reactor is a proven, operationally used design. In contrast the PWR3 reactor, that the UK is offering, is a future design, not yet fully costed (until its ready) and not tested at sea. 

If the Combat System means choosing US submarine builders by default is the visit of HMS Astute to Australia last year and depiction of an Astute-class submarine on the "Taskforce's" website just "might choose UK" diversions? After all Australia's Left (in the ALP, Green Party and some Independents) is traditionally anti-nuclear and anti-US. 

To present a UK option might reduce opposition from Australia's Left regarding the Australian SSN policy. It must be recalled that the ALP (with its Leftwing), the Greens and left leaning Independents, may form government after Australia's May(?) 2022 Federal Election. The Australian statesmen in authority at the Sportsbet online gambling company predict an ALP win, after all. 

February 22, 2022

Dollars, Drumbeats and SSNs

Future Australian SSNs entering service must be coordinated with Collins SSKs leaving. 

Anonymous on of February 19, 2022, has well argued:

I have been looking at the question of time to construct SSNs, cost and what program must be achieved to minimise the time Collins Class subs must remain in service. This is particularly critical to avoid capability gaps for the RAN. For this purpose I am assuming it is undesirable to keep any Collins SSK in service longer than 40 years from commissioning, even after life extension. 

One of the problems in replacement the RAN faces is that the six Collins Class SSKs were built quickly, with a one year "drumbeat" starting in 1990, and an average construction time of 7 years. This means, if we adopt the "40 year rule" that they all need replacement between 2036 (HMAS Collins) and 2043 (HMAS Rankin). Note that in 1995, the ASC shipyard, Adelaide, had the fully or partially completed hulls of all six Collins Class subs present at the one time. 

From the little we know about the defunct Attack Class SSK construction program from the ANAO Audit, the intent was to start construction in 2023, with a 2 year "drumbeat" and delivery starting from 2023. With the delays that occurred, the best that could have occurred now was a 2025 start, with delivery commencing from 2035 onwards. This meant the critical 6th Attack SSK, which would replace the last Collins SSK (Rankin) would commission in 2045, when Rankin would be 42 years old. The worst case would be HMAS Sheean, which would not be replaced until 2043, when Sheean would be 43 years old. This ignores any yard capacity constraints, and assumes up to 5 Attack Class hulls could be present in ASC simultaneously.

So had we continued with the Attack Class at the leisurely pace proposed, we would have faced a capability gap risk anyway. This was because we were replacing an SSK class built at a one year drumbeat, with an SSK class to be built at a 2 year drumbeat. 

Can we do better? I think the answer is yes. The key is the drumbeat. I have constructed a schedule that assumes the following:

- ASC would build an "AUStute" [Pete comment: Have used "AUStute" rather than "Austute" so it doesn't look like a typo of "Astute".] modified Astute Class SSN, with S9G  reactor fitted

- ASC would need to be upgraded to a nuclear engineering standard, taking 3 years to 2025.

- The first AUStute would be laid down in 2026, take 8 years to launch (same as BAE Astute #1)

AUStutes would be built in batches of 3, with a one year drumbeat between each, but then a gap till the previous boat was launched, assuming ASC can only fit 3 boats at a time, similar to Barrow shipyard in the UK.

- This would give AUStute commission dates of 2034, 3035, 2036, 2041, 2042, 2043, 2047, 2048, and 2049.

- Note that the first batch are assumed to take 8 years each, 7 years for the second, 6 years for the third. This is the same as Electric Boat achieved on Virginia construction, using modular techniques. The same approach should be used for the "AUStutes". 

The result is the critical 6th AUStute enters commission in 2043, allowing retirement of Rankin at age 41.

Two other points to note:

1. if we did build RAN SSNs in sequential batches of 3, I see no reason not to build 9 instead of 8. The extra cost and build time would be small once the process is set up.

2. Assuming the AUStute build went from 2026 to 2049, by the time some extra years were added for mid life upgrades of the nine AUStutes, it would be time to start building the next class, nominally in 2056. Hence a continuous build would be achieved. 

I have estimated the total program cost in $2022 and outturn $ assuming:

AUStute cost is BAE Astute cost, converted to Au$, inflated by 1.3 for Australian shipbuilding cost premium (Rand report of 2015), S9G reactor cost added,

- $30 million per annum extra (each) for ANSTO and ARPANSA,

- $558 million of design costs,

- $2.4 billion for ASC upgrade, and $2 billion each for Fleet Base West (2025-2027) and Fleet Base East (2033-2035) upgrades. 

The end result is a 2022 cost for nine Australian built Astutes with S9G reactors of $54.6 billion, and an outturn cost of $78.8 billion. This is only Capital Expenditure and regulatory cost, not Operational Expenditure. Also it assumes no differential extra cost to go from the Astute combat system to the US combat system. If that is more, add another $9 billion. 

I know this is only speculation, but all is based on public sources. To me, the most critical thing to avoid capability gaps is to start upgrading Fleet Base West and ASC to a nuclear engineering standard ASAP. Sorry for the long post. Not sure how to send you the cost spreadsheet.

Pete Comment

For commercial, legal and political reasons US and UK corporations and governments are unlikely to accept the concept of a UK designed SSN using a US reactor labeled "S9G".

This is why a UK reactor labeled "PWR3", with mixed US S9G and UK Rolls Royce characteristics, seems acceptable.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolls-Royce_PWR#PWR3

"PWR3 was a new system "based on a US design but using UK reactor technology". The Royal Institution of Naval Architects reported that it was likely that the UK was given access to the US Navy S9G reactor design used in their Virginia-class submarines." 

As with a larger version PRW2 going into Vanguards and smaller PWR2 version into Astutes, I suspect a larger version PWR3 is going into the Dreadnoughts and smaller version PWR3 into the SSN(Rs) aka SSNRs.

February 21, 2022

India's full size SSBN Program S5 Alive: Alpha SSNs

Gessler provided interesting insights into India's S5-class SSBN and Alpha SSN Programs on February 18, 2022:

1) Pete Question: What happens if India takes 20 years to commission the first Alpha SSN? This is taking into account the standard 15 years for a new submarine class + 5 years first Alpha-class indigenous SSN. 

Gessler responds: Firstly, I have no idea as to what level the design/development work on the SSN program has been completed, but like I said previously on your blog much will depend on which way they choose to go (an Arihant shape without silos, or a completely new design).  

Either way, once construction starts I'd estimate a minimum of 8 and maximum of 11 years for the first-of-class boat to be commissioned. [This could taken into account India's approval of the Alpha Project on February 2015] So if the keel is laid by around 2025, a mid-2030s date for the first boat to be handed over to the Indian Navy. Again, the time will be hugely dependent on how different the boat is compared to the Arihant. 

If its like the aforementioned "Arihant without Silos" with only minor changes/modifications, the build time is likely to be relatively short, especially if its coming off the same production line that's been building the Arihant-class (which will be free after S4* is done, which is more than likely well into construction).

Speaking of not knowing the stage of construction, you will see that all nuclear submarine development efforts in India are about as secretive as the Chinese ones are. The only exception was the SSN program due to the funding issue (explained below). For example nobody knows what's the status of the next-gen SSBN program (S-5)...which is an example of a program where the funding modalities were already worked out (carried over from Arihant's methodology).

Out of the blue, S5's possible shape was Indian Vice President Tweet 'leaked' on August 28, 2019 that hydrodynamic testing of S-5-class designs was going on.

Possible shape of the future Indian S5 aka S-5-class SSBNs (Courtesy H I Sutton's Covert Shores http://www.hisutton.com/S-5_SSBN.html )

...and what appears (to my untrained eye) to be a new, larger building dock (actually two docks side by side) well into construction beside the existing one at Ship Building Center (SBC) Vizag (aka Visakhapatnam) which popped out the S2, S3 & S4 - both the new docks are large enough (about 185 meters long) to accommodate even Ohio-sized vessels (170 meters), so likely intended for S-5 construction, though one of the two could be earmarked for SSNs: https://ibb.co/Hhg2ryZ 

The point being, while we can observe from the public domain the tussle over who's going to pay for the construction, there's no real way to know the exact status of the design & development work (which understandably has to be in place & has to be binding before construction starts) surrounding any of India's N-sub programs.


2) Pete Question: What impact does the death of the Alpha SSN’s highest level champion, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash on December 8, 2021 have on the Alpha SSN Program

Gessler respond's: I'm pretty sure the General's unfortunate death will negatively effect several aspects of the plan for Theaterization of Combatant Commands - however I doubt it will have a noticeable effect on the SSN program itself, because as far as I can tell, consensus on the program & its funding was already reached prior to the General's passing.

That said, the issue was never that the Indian Navy did not want SSNs, it was regarding who would fund the said program - whether the funds will come out of the Navy's own capital outlay (which would require them to prioritize/cut down on programs like IAC-2) [was to be named INS Vishal], or would the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) directly requisition the funds from its Cabinet/Finance Ministry for the program (as was the case for funding of the 'strategic' Arihant-class SSBNs). 

Till recently the Navy wanted the PMO to foot the bill for the SSN program, and as such every single public/media interaction with Navy leadership would have the Admirals referring to the SSBN & SSN programs as being under the same 'strategic gamut' - even though in all likelihood the SSNs will not be carrying any nuclear weapons.

Now that the matter has been settled (that the funding for SSN will come from Navy's own budget), I doubt the Admirals have much wiggle room left as doing so would certainly not earn them any favours from either the PMO or the Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's office and/or National Security Council.

February 20, 2022

Chinese Warship in Aussie Waters Aims Laser at Aircraft

Where Chinese warship, in Australian waters, aimed laser at Australian aircraft.
(Map courtesy 7News Sunrise)

At about 1am February 17, 2022 (Australian time) a Chinese/PRC warship, sailing within Australia’s exclusive economic zone, aggressively aimed a military-grade laser at an Australian P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. 

Australia’s DoD condemned “the unprofessional and unsafe military conduct” by the Chinese ship.

All modern warships have lasers, mainly to determine a target's range, position and to electronically “designate” a target immediately before firing a weapon (be it machine-gun, larger naval cannon or missile). So using a laser against a manned aircraft is a hostile act.

Laser beams, especially military grade ones, are themselves dangerous because they can cause permanent blindness if shone into someone’s eyes. Lasers can also damage important navigational and other related systems critical to air safety. More commentary see

Could this be the beginning of aggressive Chinese acts that will escalate after the Beijing Winter Olympics? Emperors for Life, Putin and Xi, had several coordinated tactics to discuss when they met in Beijing early February 2022.

India needs 12 SSNs.

Gessler argues India has pressing needs for 12 SSNs for good reasons.

Below "India's 75I Aim to Get Submarine AIP remains in Limbo." of February 17, 2022 Gessler wrote on Feb 17 .

Personally, I'd feel better if we just scrapped India's Project-75I program.  

I feel that at its core, the P75I is seeking to address a requirement that is no longer entirely relevant. The original requirement (defined in the late-1990s) called for procurement of 24 SSKs (including AIP & non-AIP ones). 12 of which were to be of a foreign design but constructed in India, and the remaining 12 of an indigenous design to be delivered after the first 12 were completed. 

The P75 & P75I tenders were meant to deliver 6 boats each toward the first 12. The P75 (Kalvari-class/Scorpene) is mostly done, the 5th boat has just set out for sea trials earlier this month and the 6th & last one is under construction.  

However we continue to wrestle with P75I, with no selection to be seen around the corner. 

But the thing is, the 24 SSK plan has already been modified - the Indian Navy had informed the Government that it seeks to ditch 6 of the 12 planned indigenous diesel subs, and replace them with 6 nuclear-powered boats instead (that's where the SSN program comes in, known as Project-75 Alpha but also referred to by some as Project 76).


Here's how I would rather have the submarine plan develop: 

1) Scrap P75I, abandon plans for procurement of AIP+LIB submarines - they no longer can provide the Indian Navy with a decisive edge against regional adversaries, let alone Chinese expeditionary patrols in the Indian Ocean Region. 

2) Make a follow-on order of 3-6 more SSKs of the Scorpene/Kalvari variety - with or without the indigenous DRDO-developed PAFC AIP (which is as yet unproven). This involves the existing production line in Mumbai & clearly defined local industrial partners. They have already built 5 Kalvari-class subs. 3-6 additional Kalvaris will mean significant reduction in time & money required to get additional hulls in the water. This should be in time to replace the 8 Sindhughosh-class older vesion Kilos (877EKM) and 4 Shishumar-class Type-209s currently in service. Even though the Kilos and 209s have received significant upgrades, they remain old hulls, especially the 209s. 

3) Make a bigger push to go nuclear. Back in the 1990s when the 24-sub plan was devised, the construction of nuclear-powered submarines in India was but a risky pipedream. India  had no idea if the ATV program would succeed or not. There were uncertainties as to what level of localization & design flexibility could be enabled down the line. Uncertainties included as to whether Indian yards & engineering companies' had the ability to absorb the fundamentals of N-sub design & construction. 

Today, there are 3 Arihant-class SSBNs in the water. The first, INS Arihant S-2, has already performed its first deterrence patrols (2018-19). The second is INS Arighat. The third is the extended (codename) "S-4" launched on Novemberr 23, 2021. This shows a significant level of design flexibility having been absorbed. India is now in a position to approach N-sub construction (and the investment in them) with a greater degree of confidence. 

I would prefer it if the plan for the second "indigenous" batch of 12 SSKs subs (which is now reduced to 6) were to be abandoned in its entirety and replaced with an additional 6 SSNs (for a total of 12 SSNs). 

The way I see it, 6 SSNs are simply not enough for the needs andmerging requirements of the Indian Navy. 

If we think with the assumption that the SSNs will have the exact same reactors with the same level of Uranium fuel enrichment (around 40% average) as the existing Arihant-class (which may or may not be the case but for sake of argument let's say it is)...it would imply a similar refuel time period [meaning 2 or 3 SSNs refueling in deep maintenance at any one time].

This means that in order to provide each of the 4 planned SSBNs (S2, S3, S4 & S4* ) with an SSN for protection & escort, 4 corresponding SSN hulls will be necessary, if the Indian Navy does not go toward a Bastion concept of deterrence posture. These 'escort' SSNs will become necessary if India SSBNs use the vast underwater trenches of the Indian Ocean. This will become a requirement as soon as Indian SLBMsfrom remote Indian Ocean launch areas have sufficient range to hit distant targetsl**).  

On top of that, the Indian Navy [will need around 2 to 3 SSNs] if India wants to possess 3 Carrier Strike Groups (first, centred on the Russian-built INS Vikramaditya is operational while the second, centred on the indigenously-built INS Vikrant/IAC-1 is in sea trials and the third, IAC-2 aka INS Vishal, is being conceptualized), so that at least 1 carrier group is available for operational tasking at any given time. 

With the current plan, the 3 carrier groups will have to rotate the 2 remaining SSNs between them as their main underwater escort. 

This leaves no extra Indian SSNs which can be tasked at any given time to carry out independent Hunter-Killer/Intelligence-gathering patrols across the Indian Ocean Region & into the South China Sea. Any such mission tasking is likely to require months if not years of advance planning. 

As you can see, the 6 SSNs planned under Project-75 Alpha are barely enough for the purely defensive needs necessitated by the wide frontage of roles performed by the Indian Navy (carrier groups + strategic deterrence posture). This is in stark contrast to the RAN where every single SSN can theoretically be available for such 'offensive' taskings due to lack of aforementioned defensive needs (no carrier groups, sharing of US nuclear defence umbrella). 

At a time when China did not have any Carriers (which wasn't that long ago), they actually had a lot more flexibility with regard to SSN deployments, plus their adoption of a Bastion concept for SSBN operations...but with PLAN expanding its frontage with Carrier groups, we'll have to see how their deployments change. I still tend to think PLAN's carriers are more for show & propaganda purposes and do not serve much of a role in the Chinese war doctrine...as opposed to the Indian Navy where the Carrier Group is central to the naval warfighting posture.

** You will note that India went to great lengths to never portray the Agni-5 as an ICBM, officially capping its 'known' range at 5,000-km, just 500-km short of officially being an ICBM. But when it comes to SLBMs, they were more open to marketing it with a 
K-5 SLBM 6,000-km range. Please refer to the slide below [perhaps of a K-5  SLBM] shown at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay that I (Gessler) posted on Submarine Matters on April 18, 2021. See 3rd paragraph here). 

In my opinion, the extra press (and possible pressure) received when testing what the wider world officially considers an ICBM was deemed to be worth it. This is as long as it shows beyond a shadow of doubt that the major cities of the Chinese Mainland are within reach from the deeper locations of the Indian Ocean Basin (say, Chagos Trench [aka “Chagos Ridge”?]).

You will note that a [S4 or S4* mounted K-5 SLBM of 6,000-km ICBM range is only required if such a distant Indian Ocean] posture is to be adopted. Otherwise even a 3500-4000-km IRBM (like the existing K-4) would be sufficient if employed from within the Bay of Bengal.