Knowledge in the area of Submarine Campaigns was largely undeveloped in 1971. There is a vast difference between merely deploying submarines and conducting a campaign. With conventional submarines, the number of boats on actual patrol can rarely exceed 60% of the force level. Their use in future wars must be part of an all arms strategy that synergises aerial surveillance, air-to- surface interdiction and mining.
Indian Navy’s submarine arm had an impressive strength of 21 submarines in the 1980s. India joined the exclusive group of submarine constructing nations on February 7, 1992, with the commissioning of the first Indian built submarine INS Shalki. Mazagon Dock then went on to commission another submarine, INS Shankul, on May 28, 1994. And while these submarines are still in service even two decades after they were commissioned, the worrying fact is the dwindling number of submarines in India’s sub-surface arm.
A 30-year submarine building plan proposed by the defence establishment was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in July 1999. It envisaged the manufacture of 24 boats, all of them in India, the first twelve with transfer of technology [ToT] from foreign collaborators and the next twelve indigenously. The local construction of 24 submarines over 30 years would be in two lines.
According to the envisaged plan, 12 new submarines were to be inducted to the navy by 2012, and was to be supplemented with 12 more submarines by 2030. But the navy soon went out of favor with the government’s priority, and coupled with red tape, by 2014 the Navy had not received a single new submarine since it commissioned INS Sindhurashtra in 2000.
The Indian effort to learn submarine design foundered on domestic politics, when V.P. Singh scrapped the HDW Class 209 submarine deal because the arrangement involved payment to some agents. Now with the Scorpene class, the learning process has begun again.
As of 2008 the Indian Navy held just two-thirds of the submarine force level envisaged in its 1985 plan. The navy's 30-year plan to build 24 conventional submarines indigenously was approved in the late 1990s, but never implemented. On paper, the Indian Navy, the world's fifth largest, boasted a fleet strength of 16 submarines by 2008. In reality, only six submarines were operational - available for combat or classified surveillance missions. At least four other submarines, like the Sindhukirti, were stuck in prolonged refits. To be able to maintain its existing fleet strength of 16 submarines, the navy needed to add one submarine every two years. By 2008 more than 50 per cent of India's submarines had completed 75 per cent of their operational life of 30 years. If the construction plan for new submarines is not expedited, 63 per cent of the existing fleet would complete their prescribed life by 2012, when the first new submarines (six Scorpene class submarines being built at Mazagon Docks Ltd. in Mumbai, will be inducted in intervals of 18 months from 2012 onwards) will be inducted as per the present schedule.
By 2014 the existing boats include four HDW 1500 submarines inducted between 1986 and 1994, and 10 Kilo class boats, only 8 of which were servicable. The Indian submarine fleet had constricted to just 13 – of which only 7 or 8 can be operational at a given time. The Navy had reasons to be worried. By 2015 or so, it would be left with just half of its present fleet of 13 ageing diesel-electric submarines - 8 Russian Kilo-class, four German HDW and one Foxtrot.
There was a well structured submarine construction program. In phase one, Project-75, six submarines were under construction with Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai. This is being monitored very closely. After all the examination the MOD prepared a CSE note for an additional six submarines. Proposal for construction of another six submarines (Project-75(I)) was in the advanced stage of sanction. So, the total submarines are 12. If required the government would go in for an upgradation and life extension of the existing submarines in order to ensure that the required force levels for submarine fleet are maintained until new inductions take place.
The Navy operates a certain number of submarine squadrons, each with an assigned number of vessels. All the squadrons, excepting one which had only 50 per cent of its complement, operated with the assigned number of vessels. However, on account of considerable time overruns for various refits, the operational availability of vessels during 1990-95 ranged between 10 and 66 per cent of the total strength of submarine fleet.
In addition to the principal commands, flag officers direct three large sub-commands: Naval Aviation and Goa Area (in Goa, on the western coast between Bombay and Cochin), Submarines (in Visakhapatnam), and the "Fortress" in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Port Blair), located in the southeastern Bay of Bengal.
The submarines are placed under the operational and administrative control of the FOsC-in-C of the respective Naval Commands. A Flag Officer is appointed as Class Authority for the submarines to coordinate and institute common standards and practices, safety precautions and procedures, warfare tactics and training and also operational readiness.
Exercise and training of personnel, as in the case of other arms of the Defence Forces, are essential to maintain the battle fitness of the Navy. Naval HQ prescribed standards for conducting exercise by the operational vessels from time to time which, inter alia, stipulated participation by all the operational vessels in combined and coordinated exercises alongwith other surface vessels and aircraft in the Navy for prescribed durations. It was, however, seen that during 1990-95, the number of participating submarines in exercises was not only low but also the actual duration of their participation was far below the prescribed durations.
Naval HQ stated, in February 1996, that during peace time, every sea sortie had a training value which built up confidence level of the crew and improved combat efficiency. This argument is not tenable as the combined and coordinated fleet exercises are intended to operate the vessels in tandem with other vessels to enhance combat skills in various eventualities (including war like situations) which were not susceptible to simulation during single sea sorties. Further, as the Navy did not have any submarine specifically dedicated for training purposes, their participation in combined fleet exercises was all the more necessary to ensure battle-fitness of both the crew and the submarine fleet.
The training courses for the crew and officers of the submarine fleet are conducted in a training establishment as per the annual training programme of Naval HQ. A study of the total training days utilised vis-a-vis those programmed during the period 1990-95 shows that the shortfall in utilisation of the programmed number of days ranged from 17 to 52 per cent in respect of officers and 16 to 46 per cent in case of sailors. This apart, the duration was also curtailed by two to ten weeks in respect of certain courses. Thus, training facilities were not utilised to the extent these were programmed.
For the purpose of ensuring proper preventive maintenance of the submarines, periodical refit of all the three classes has been prescribed by the Naval HQ. These refits are of three different types namely short, normal and medium, with specified durations ranging from two to 24 months. For the purpose of carrying out refits of the submarines as well as the surface vessels of the Indian Navy, there are six naval dry dock facilities -four at Mumbai and two at Visakhapatnam. Any time-overrun in carrying out refits beyond the prescribed periods has evidently an adverse effect on the maintenance schedule of other vessels due for refits, affecting their operational availability and battle readiness. So far as the submarines are concerned, it was noticed that between 1990 and 1995, there were inordinate delays in carrying out prescribed refits of all the classes.
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