All you need to know about India’s submarine strength

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Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal is a Defence and Aerospace Journalist with his articles/works on various digital and print media platforms. He is an Anchor/Host and Correspondent associated with several News Media Organizations. He is responsible for Digital Media and Defense reporting at Frontier India. *Views are personal

Two charge sheets were filed against serving and retired Naval officers along with some others by the CBI in the previous week for allegedly sharing details of the ongoing modernization project of India’s kilo class submarines. The imported submarines which are being retrofitted are in the kilo class

While China has marched ahead in its larger naval and more specific submarine capabilities, India seems to have somewhere lost a decade in modernizing its submarine fleet as said by experts. 

Apparently, one nuclear ballistic submarine that has been classified as SSBN along with 15 conventional diesel-electric submarines which are classified as SSKs is in possession by India.  

Previous reports 

Earlier this year it was reported that the Indian Navy will operate a mixture of both nuclear and conventional submarines in order to deal with threats around the nation, said an Indian official.

Keeping the need to tackle threats both near coastal areas as well as open seas in view, the official told the news agency ANI that the Indian Navy would build a fleet that would include both nuclear as well as conventional submarines. 

It was also said that 24 new submarines are being planned to be operated by the Indian Navy of which six are of the Kalvari class while another six would be built under Project 75 India with its tender already been issued and in order to build six nuclear submarines, the proposal still stands pending with the Cabinet Committee on Security. 

Current Composition

Of the above-cited SSKs, in collaboration with the Germans starting in the 1980s, four of them are Shishumar class which were bought and then built in India while bought between 1984 and 2000, eight are Kilo Class or Sindhughosh Class which were purchased from Russia (including erstwhile USSR) and along with that built at India’s Mazagon Dock in partnership with France’s Naval Group, earlier called DCNS, three are Kalvari Class Scorpene. 

Coming to INS Arihant which is India’s SSBN is a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine that has been built indigenously while on the other hand, an upgraded version of Arihant which is known as INS Arighat is the second SSBN which is likely to be commissioned within the next few months.

Back to History

With many of India’s submarines being refitted, most of the submarines are over 25 years old with India’s first submarine purchased in December 1967 from the USSR which is none other than INS Kalvari of the Foxtrot Class. India came in possession of around four such submarines by 1969 while these submarines were baptised into battle during the 1971 war with Pakistan. However, four more Foxtrot Class submarines were purchased by India between 1971-74.

India did not get any new submarines for a decade after 1974, however, it signed a contract to purchase two Type 209 submarines from West Germany in 1981 while two others were to be assembled at Mazgaon Dock which resulted in the formation of Shishumar Class and the first of which was commissioned in 1986.

India was parallelly offered its kilo class submarines by Russia.

India received two submarines from Germany and eight from the USSR between 1986 to 1992. Adding up to 12 new submarines in eight years from 1986, two German submarines built in India were also commissioned. Back in 1999 and 2000, two more kilo class submarines were purchased by India from Russia taking the total submarine fleet to around 20.

The older foxtrot started getting decommissioned soon after while INS Sindhurakshak which is one of the ten kilo class submarines sank off Mumbai after explosions caused by fire. Myanmar was gifted INS Sindhuvir by India in the previous year.

30-year plan (2000-30)

Two production lines of six submarines each built in India in partnership with the foreign original equipment manufacturer was envisaged in the 30 plan for indigenous submarine construction which was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 1999.

The anticipation that India would get more than 12 new submarines by 2012-15 was made by the 30 year plan while 12 of its own would be crafted by India by the year 2030 thereby taking the fleet size to around 24 and older submarines getting decommissioned on the other hand.

So far, three Kalvari class Scorpene submarines have been delivered by the P-75 project out of the six being built although P-75I is yet to take off with the first request for information was issued in 2008 and once again in 2010 while finally the request for proposal was issued in July 2021.

However, the P-75 project seems to have been delayed since its first boat should have been commissioned back in 2012, it was commissioned in December 2017.

With regards to Beijing

With 50 diesel-powered attack submarines, China is equipped with six SSNs and four SSBNs are currently being operated by the state while it is building additional hulls, as per a report released by Pentagon in 2020.

The report further added that by replacing older units with more capable units on a near one to one basis, through the 2020s the Chinese Navy shall probably maintain between 65 and 70 submarines. 

The report also said that China is expected to have up to eight SSBNs by 2030 while it already constructed 12 nuclear submarines in the previous 15 years.

Current Status of India

Alongside the United States Russia the United kingdom’s France and China India stands among the six Nations that are equipped with SSNs. India had received its first SSN back in 1987 from the Soviet Navy which it rechristened as INS Chakra that was however decommissioned in 1991. That said, INS Chakra 2 which was another Russian SSN was received by India on a 10 year Lease in 2012 and has since been returned to Russia.

Six of the twelve submarines which are to be built indigenously after the P75 and P75I projects would be SSNs instead of SSK, as decided by the government. With the first expected to be delivered by 2025, India is taking two SSNs on lease from Russia.

However, it is to be noted that the indigenously developed SSBNs which are INS Arihant and INS Arighat have already been developed during this time by India. Falling under the Strategic Forces Command, the tri-services command responsible for India’s nuclear weapons, the SSBNs are strategic programs, Unlike the other submarines.

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