Tag Archives: India

China’s Yuan-class Submarine Visits Karachi: An Assessment

In May 2015, a Chinese Type 041 Yuan-class submarine (pennant number 335) entered the Indian Ocean and made a week-long port call at Karachi, Pakistan. This development caused alarm in India, at least in the media circles, particularly since it comes barely six months after the first-ever Indian Ocean deployment of China’s Song-class submarine between September and November 2014, and its docking in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port. Notably, following the Colombo docking, NMF view-point titled “PLA Navy’s Submarine Arm ‘Stretches its Sea Legs to the Indian Ocean” of 21 November 2014 had predicted future Chinese submarine dockings in Pakistan’s ports. These seminal developments call for an objective assessment in terms of China’s intent underlying its submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean and its implications for India.

Alike the port call in Sri Lanka, China is likely to justify the submarine visit to Pakistan as a replenishment halt enroute to PLA Navy’s ongoing counter-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. However, these deployments may be seen in context of the growing volatility of the security environment in the South China Sea, including the increasing brinkmanship between China and the United States. In case of a maritime conflict in the area, China’s energy shipments transiting the Indian Ocean are strategically vulnerable. Through its submarine deployments, China may be seeking to deter its potential adversaries against interdicting its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean.

Route of the Yuan class submarine.

By virtue of its opaque operating medium, a submarine has always been a potent platform of war. The technological advances in satellite and air surveillance have not been able to offset the submarine’s inherent advantage of stealth. On the other hand, the advances in underwater weaponry – particularly submarine-launched anti-ship and land-attack missiles – have further enhanced the submarine’s lethality. The only constraint of a conventional (diesel-driven) submarine – like the Song-class – is to re-charge its batteries, for which its need to come up to the sea surface (for access to atmospheric oxygen) every two or three days, depending upon the usage of the batteries. This limits the submarine’s operational role and makes it highly vulnerable. However, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology – such as on the Yuan class – has eased this constraint substantially, since its stored liquid oxygen enables the submarine to operate underwater for an extended durations of as much as two to three weeks.

Among the aims specific to the Yuan 335 call at Karachi, the foremost may be to showcase the Yuan to the Pakistan Navy. Notably, news-reports indicate that Pakistan Navy (PN) is likely to acquire up to eight Chinese Type 41 Yuan-class submarines. The contract between Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works Limited (KSEW) and China Shipbuilding and Offshore International Co. Ltd. (CSOC) includes building some of these at KSEW. These submarines are equipped with Sterling AIP system, which the Chinese claim is more efficient than the AIP systems currently available in the world. The week-long docking of the Yuan at Karachi – too long merely for replenishment – may also have been utilised for training of the KSEW and PN personnel on the submarine, and its machinery and weapon systems, particularly the AIP system.

In broader terms, the two sets of Chinese submarine forays into the Indian Ocean (Colombo and Karachi) are likely to be ‘trial balloons’ for regular operational deployments of Chinese submarines in the region. The current deployments are also likely to be meant to familiarise the PLA Navy with the new operational environment in the Indian Ocean, train them for distant missions, collect intelligence, and collate hydrographic data specific to the Indian Ocean, which is essential for future submarine operations in the region. At present, the Chinese submarines need to replenish only fuel, food and fresh water. In the longer term, with the PN (and some other regional navies such as the Thai Navy) operating the same submarines, the PLA Navy is likely to benefit from a more comprehensive logistics support – technical services, machinery and equipment spare-parts and even ammunition. This will enable the Chinese submarines to remain deployed in the Indian Ocean for extended periods.

While China may continue to deploy its conventional submarines in the Indian Ocean, these are likely to be supplemented with the upgraded version of its new-generation Type 093 nuclear attack submarines (SSNs), whenever these are operationally deployable. These SSNs are likely to be armed with anti-ship and land-attack missiles, and capable of launching Special Operations Forces (SOF) via Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (SDV). Since SSNs do not need replenished, these submarines would not need to enter any regional port, unless China wants to demonstrate a deterrent posture.

China and India share a complex relationship, competitive, and even potentially adversarial. Hence, even if increasing Chinese submarine deployments in the Indian Ocean is not directly targeted at India, the development has severe national security implications for New Delhi. The response to increasing Chinese submarine forays in the Indian Ocean lies in developing affective air, ship and submarine based Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities, including sub-surface Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

Captain Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD is the Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy, the NMF or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Sea Control 84 – Indian Ocean

seacontrol2Why does the Indian Ocean matter? In this week’s podcast, Natalie Sambhi (ASPI) interviews CIMSEC’s Scott Cheney-Peters (CIMSEC) and Nilanthi Samaranayake (CNA) for an American perspective on developments in Indian Ocean maritime security. They cover the US–India defence agreement signed in June, maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean region, India’s naval capabilities and its potential role in the South China Sea, and Indian Ocean regionalism.

To read more on these issues, AMTI features Scott on ‘India’s maritime acts in the East’ and Nilanthi’s ‘Views from India’s smaller maritime neighbours’.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 84, Indian Ocean

China’s Military Strategy White Paper 2015: Far Seas Operations and the Indian Ocean Region

The Security Environment

On 26 May 2015, China released its first ever White Paper focusing exclusively on military strategy. China’s economic rise propelled by an extensive growth strategy has caused its integration with the global economy. It has consequently developed expansive interests linking its fate with that of the global system, most notably its access to African and Persian Gulf resources. China’s transition from the ‘near coast defence’ maritime doctrine in the 1980’s (product of a maritime strategy that was seen only as an extension to the continental strategy) to the ‘near seas control’ doctrine till 2004 calling for China to exercise control up to the first island chain has mirrored China’s increasing integration in the global economy. The conferment of historical missions upon the Chinese Navy post 2004 required it to focus on the distant seas as well. That was symptomatic of the increased stakes China had in influencing the events in the maritime commons, and was a trend that has continued unabated. The document acknowledges this, noting that:

In the new circumstances, the national security issues facing China encompass far more subjects, extend over a greater range, and cover a longer time span than at any time in the country’s history. Internally and externally, the factors at play are more complex than ever before.”

Taiwan’s reunification and safeguarding its territorial claims in the ‘near seas’ remain important to China. However, the emphasis accorded to safeguarding of China’s overseas interests is notable, as observed in the section on National Security Overview which says:

With the growth of China’s national interests, its national security is more vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, serious natural disasters and epidemics, and the security of overseas interests concerning energy and resources, strategic sea lines of communication (SLOCs), as well as institutions, personnel and assets abroad, has become an imminent issue.”

A Blue Water Force

The most revealing part of the strategy indicating China’s aim to build a globe spanning blue water navy says:

“..the PLA Navy (PLAN) will gradually shift its focus from “offshore waters defense” to the combination of “offshore waters defense” with “open seas protection,” and build a combined, multi-functional and efficient marine combat force structure.

The section on force development goes on to say:

The seas and oceans bear on the enduring peace, lasting stability and sustainable development of China. The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests. It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests, safeguard its national sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, protect the security of strategic SLOCs and overseas interests, and participate in international maritime cooperation, so as to provide strategic support for building itself into a maritime power.”

An overhead view of China’s carrier, the Liaoning.

Far Seas Operations

The strategic guideline of active defence is prescribed for the military with a focus on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology and informationisation (with the maritime military struggle aspect being highlighted).

In the section about Preparation for Military Struggle, however a reference is made to the need to strengthen strategic prepositioning. Limited logistical support severely constrains the PLAN’s ability to operate beyond East Asia; and in context of the Indian Ocean, this could be interpreted to refer to the strengthening of a Chinese policy popularly dubbed as the ‘String of Pearls’. Recent talks between China and Djibouti aimed at enhancing Chinese naval operations in the region is part of a Chinese effort to establish a variety of access points in the Indian Ocean Region in the upcoming years.

Further (as seen in the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence 2015 Report on the PLAN) it is clear that the Chinese naval order of battle is undergoing qualitative improvements as legacy combatants are giving way to larger multi-mission ships capable of undertaking a broader spectrum of missions. The PLAN’s involvement in diversified missions in the far seas is mirrored in both its acquisition patterns and far seas training patterns (as routine deployments in the Philippines, operations in the Mediterranean and increasing incursions in the Indian Ocean indicate).

Looking to the Future

China has enhanced overseas interests, is building a blue water fleet to conduct far seas operations and the Indian Ocean is slated to become an active area of operations for the PLAN. Should this set alarm bells ringing in India? The answer is that it’s too early to tell.

The Chinese fleet is currently optimized for anti-surface warfare and has made substantial investments and developments in advanced Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles and Over the Horizon Targeting systems in pursuit of the same. Proficient as it may be in Anti Surface Warfare and increasingly Anti Air Warfare (shipboard air defences having witnessed dramatic improvements of late) Anti-Submarine Warfare and power projection in contested environments remain weaknesses for China. Given PLAN’s priorities closer to home, the pace at which aircraft carriers, large deck amphibious ships (power projection tools) and its anti-submarine capabilities are bolstered will be indicating the priority PLAN places on being able to sustain far seas operations that can involve high intensity combat operations.

Just as important as adapting to these developments militarily though would be closely mirroring Chinese diplomatic approaches not just in the Indian Ocean region but within China’s backyard as well. Whether or not such an approach is considered feasible depends in large part on whether it is the pursuit of simply a reactive or a pro-active strategy that is being considered. Either way policy must be formulated keeping in mind the fact that China has growing global interests and this is occurring simultaneously with the loosening of its historic reticence for using its military forces in far seas operations.

This piece was originally published as a Viewpoint at the National Maritime Foundation. The author (Himanil Raina) can be reached at himanilraina@gmail.com.

INS Vikrant Makes Progress at Cochin Shipyard

Guest Post by Chris B.

New satellite imagery shows that India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier has made significant progress since it was launched in August 2013, helping India inch towards the goal of a two carrier battle group.

Imagery acquired by commercial satellite firm DigitalGlobe in February 2015 shows further assembly of INS Vikrant, a 40,000 ton aircraft carrier and India’s soon-to-be largest vessel once commissioned. Additional ship modules now welded to the hull have enlarged the deck width — measuring almost 60 meters. The erection of the superstructure reported last November was also confirmed. India’s first domestically produced carrier is currently under construction at state-owned Cochin Shipyard Limited, the country’s largest shipbuilding and maintenance facility located in Kerala on the west coast.

Like other vessels built in India, significant cost overruns and delays have hampered shipbuilding progress. The South Asian country is already four years behind schedule on the project with the latests estimates pushing an operational date closer to December 2018, if not beyond. However, the Indian Navy expects that the vessel will “undock” sometime this month after mounting the propellers on the engine shafts, according to an April statement from Vice Admiral Ashok Subedar. Afterward, the shipyard will continue with the fitting out process.

Originally, India was to have fielded her carrier by 2014, eleven years after the government approved the build. Last July, the Cabinet Committee on Security released an additional Rs 19,000 crore (approx USD 3.18 billion), the lion’s share, to complete the vessel’s construction — on top the USD 585 million already spent. Due to India’s extensive bureaucracy, the funds languished for almost a year halting progress on the project.

“As much as 95 per cent of its hull is complete as is 22,000 tons of [its] steel structure,” Subedar went on to say. That’s 3,500 tons heavier than its August 2013 launch weight though significantly less than its planned 40,000 tons. Of course, much of the that weight will be comprised of two fixed wing squadrons (12 x fighters each) of Russian-built MIG-29K and Indian-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, 10 x Ka-31 ASW helicopters as well as necessary ammo, fuel, and other supplies.

Vikrant

Indian Navy Computer Model of INS Vikrant

Featuring a STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) configuration with a ski-jump, India’s indigenous carrier will push naval pilots to master a new launch and recovery system, one very different from its existing STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing). Luckily, Russia helped India build a shore-based testing facility which became operational early last year. Imagery shows that Indian pilots are already hard at work. (INS Vikramaditya also features a STOBAR configuration).

Aircraft aside, India’s latest carrier will be powered by four General Electric LM2500 gas turbines capable of cruising speeds around 18 knots. With an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles the Navy should have few problems projecting force throughout the Indian Ocean region, especially given India’s previous proficiency in carrier operations.

But if issues do arise, the United States has proposed a joint working group to help support Indian ops, share best practices and even possibly, technology. All of which may lead observers to conclude that India’s naval capability has become increasingly important. Prime Minister Modi made that clear while visiting Mauritius in March: “India is becoming more integrated globally. We will be more dependent than before on the ocean and the surrounding regions. We must also assume our responsibility to shape its future. So, [the] Indian Ocean region is at the top of our policy priorities.”

As perhaps it should be. India is already advantaged by its unique geography, jutting out in the Indian Ocean with its 7,500km coastline and island territories. Given India has short distances to travel to manage any regional conflict or rivalry, it only makes sense that India would focus resources on protecting national interests in its own backyard.

DG (11MAR15) PLAN Salalah

Satellite Imagery of PLAN Vessel at Oman’s Salalah port (DigitalGlobe 11MAR15)

However, few regional contenders are making a splash in the maritime space, though emerging challenges from China are certainly on India’s radar. China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012 and has already started construction on a second. With recent infrastructure established in the South China Sea and additional PLAN deployments in the Indian Ocean region, China appears poised to take a more aggressive maritime stance, a clear departure from India’s Cold War experience.

In response, India is planning a 160-plus-ship navy as it seeks to constrain what it sees as a Chinese incursion into its sphere of influence. Unfortunately for the navy, India is still predominately a land force with the Army maintaining the biggest share of the defense budget. Regardless, India expects that its homegrown carrier program will eventually allow it to maintain two carrier battle groups supporting its respective Eastern and Western Naval Commands.

Named after India’s first aircraft carrier recently scrapped, the INS Vikrant is one of two homegrown carriers planned for the Indian Navy. The second carrier, INS Vishal is currently being fast-tracked—though it’s unknown what this means for Vishal’s construction timeline. In the meantime, India’s lack of experience building carriers and the uncertainty of outside assistance may impede India’s pressing strategic goals, probably pushing the operation of its second carrier to 2025 or beyond.

This article can be found in its original form at Offiziere.ch