The Indian Navy has reportedly clarified its stance to the federal government that the construction of six nuclear-powered attack submarines would take precedence over the third aircraft carrier, to counter the rapid expansion of the Chinese military activity in the Indian Ocean.
According to the Indian daily Hindustan Times, the decision was taken during the Indian Navy’s recently-held Combined Commanders Conference at Kevadia in Gujarat.
Analyzing the maritime scenario on the Indo-Pacific along with Beijing’s ambitions, it was decided that the nuclear submarines (aka SSNs) should take priority over the project to build the third heavy aircraft carrier called IAC-2 (Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-2).
The HT reports also mentions that the Navy will seek Acceptance of Necessity (AON) approval from the government on the SSN project, keeping in mind that China has developed the capability to build Type 055 (Renhai-class) destroyers in just five years.
The question of the viability of spending billions on nuclear submarines is linked to the issue of operational requirements.
While a conventional diesel-electric submarine has to surface frequently to run diesel engines and charge the battery (thereby losing its main virtue of stealth), a nuclear submarine is run by a nuclear reactor and can run almost indefinitely underwater without the need to surface – almost indefinitely – only bound by human restrictions of supply needs. An SSN could patrol the entire length of the Indian Ocean without surfacing even once.
The Indian Navy currently has two commissioned nuclear-powered submarines and 15 conventional diesel-electric subs. One more nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) would be commissioned by the end of this year.
Three more diesel-electric attack submarines shall be delivered and commissioned by early 2023, with two of them already undergoing sea trials. The service shall also commission its second heavy aircraft carrier (IAC-1) by the end of 2021.
The report also mentioned that the Indian government is looking forward to tie-ups with France over joint development and construction of the new subs, which is already helping New Delhi with the construction of Kalvari-class diesel-electric boats (based on French Scorpene-class).
The People’s Liberation Army Navy has been the major reason for arms proliferation in the Asia-Pacific, especially its disputes over the South China Sea with several countries. A US congressional report released last year said the PLA Navy’s surface fleet numbers had even surpassed the US Navy’s, however, they still lack in the terms of tonnage.
“For many states in Asia and Oceania, a growing perception of China as a threat is the main driver for arms imports. More large imports are planned, and several states in the region are also aiming to produce their own major arms,” Siemon T. Wezeman, a senior researcher at SIPRI said earlier this month.