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Underwater chakravyuh


Feb 20, 2013
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic Of
Submarines have no role to play in anti-piracy patrols, which need a combination of ships with helicopters and shore-based patrol aircraft to monitor sea traffic... So why have Chinese subs begun to prowl the IOR

Unlike India, where submarine force levels have reached an all-time low of 13 obsolete conventional subs, China has always regarded its conventional and nuclear submarines as the spearhead of its long-range blue water capability.

The Chinese Navy has about 50 conventional subs and 10 nuclear subs. And, more ominously, it has begun exporting its conventional subs at prices well below the international price. A French or German sub It costs about $1 billion, and a Russian sub about $600 million. But, recently, Bangladesh signed a contract to buy two Chinese Ming-class subs for a total of $203 million, Thailand has decided to buy three Chinese Yuan-class subs for $355 million each, while Pakistan has signed a contract for eight Yuan-class or Qing-class (improved Yuan class) subs for an undisclosed amount. Four of these subs are to be imported and four are to be built in Pakistan. These subs have air-independent propulsion system and can carry three nuclear-tipped 500-km range Chinese-designed cruise missiles that could threaten Indian coastal cities.

China is aware that any major power needs to have a two-ocean Navy (i.e. a Navy that has a substantial year-long presence in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans), and its economy has permitted it to build a blue water Navy that has played its part rather aggressively in the well-publicised coercive diplomacy in the South and East China seas where China claims numerous islands and adjoining seas.

China’s economic growth is fueled by huge exports and massive oil imports from West Asia and Africa — both (like India) are largely based on sea transportation. China is keen to protect its vulnerable sea lanes that pass through the Strait of Malacca which can be blocked by the US and Indian navies during war time.

Hence, Chinese warships began non-stop anti-piracy patrols off Somalia in 2008, and last year there were reports of sightings of Chinese nuclear subs and conventional subs in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. China has justified these deployments as part of their anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

On December 3, 2013, a Chinese nuclear-powered Shang-class submarine sailed from Hainan base (Sanya Island) and reached the Gulf of Aden on December 13 for a two-month patrol in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). On October 31, 2014, a Chinese Song-class conventional sub docked in Colombo for “relaxation” along with a warship, before it proceeded on “anti-piracy patrols” off Somalia. Recently, on May 22, 2015, a Chinese Yuan-class conventional sub on “anti-piracy patrols” entered Karachi port for “relaxation” and sailed out after a week.

Submarines have no role to play in anti-piracy patrols, which need a combination of ships with helicopters and shore-based patrol aircraft to monitor sea traffic and intervene where necessary to deter or destroy pirates who operate in small fishing trawlers carrying high-speed boats. So why have Chinese subs begun to prowl the IOR?

Having served on submarines for many years in the Indian Navy, I can state that all emerging major navies, like the Chinese (and earlier the US, Russian), deploy submarines for prolonged periods in distant unfamiliar waters like the IOR for four reasons.

The first is for intelligence gathering about acoustic and electronic signatures of, in China’s case, Indian warships for ease of identification of individual warships during wartime.

Second, China probably wants to gather hydrographic data about the warm waters of the Indian Ocean where salinity, environmental noise and changing temperature gradients at different depths make the IOR waters ideal for submarine warfare.

The third is to gather statistical data on machinery and sensor performance and breakdowns whilst on long-range deployments, with the aim of improving future submarine designs and machinery. China has also placed logistics and technical teams in “friendly ports” — nations who have accepted Chinese economic aid or military equipment and have, thus, become a part of the proposed Chinese Maritime Silk Route (connecting China to Europe via the IOR, and also for linking up with the similar revived land silk route from China to Europe).

The fourth reason is that by selling warships and submarines, the recipient countries will be committed to Chinese military technicians, trainers and other support staff for maintenance and logistics for decades, thus preparing the ground for greater Chinese influence (and naval bases) in the IOR.

China has recently promised Pakistan an economic package of $46 billion. It has taken management control of the strategic Gwadar port and is all set to get its first naval and airbase in Gwadar, which is only 360 nautical miles from the strategic Gulf of Oman. Indian oil tankers ships, bringing badly needed Gulf oil to India, will be highly vulnerable to any interdiction during war.

India needs to focus on bolstering its Navy in general and its outdated submarine fleet in particular. Since the indigenous six Scorpene class subs under construction will join between 2016 to 2022, and be insufficient to replace the older 13 subs, we need a fleet of conventional and nuclear subs that can provide us a blue water deterrent capability in the IOR against future Chinese Navy aircraft carrier deployments. We should also be able to deploy our subs in the western Pacific off China’s coast.

While the recently announced “Make in India” plans indigenous building of new conventional and nuclear subs (SSNs and SSBNs), the fact is that they will take at least 20 years to be commissioned.

Also, the tragic sinking in Mumbai harbour of a Kilo-class sub, Sindhurakshak, on August 14, 2013, due to an explosion, again exposed the urgent need for a viable sub rescue system for each coast.

There is a need to urgently import three nuclear subs (SSN), and two Submarine Rescue Vessels (SRV). Since Russia is the only nation which is willing to supply SSNs, and also has a modern SRV capability, hopefully Prime Minister Narendra Modi will discuss this with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits Russia on July 8 for the Brics meeting in the city of Ufa, and again in early October, during his formal visit to Moscow.

The writer retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam


Apr 9, 2015
United States
Apart from what we are building I believe 6 of scorpene and 1 Arihant we also need to buy some from France/ Germany/ Sweden. I wish we have more mone


Dec 3, 2014
Factually incorrect in some areas, weird theories in others....

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