Tag Archives: India

The Quest for India’s Supercarrier

This article originally featured on CSIS cogitAsia and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Tuneer Mukherjee

The recent decommissioning of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat leaves an enormous gap in the Indian Navy’s power projection capabilities. India’s sole remaining aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will now serve at the vanguard, as evidenced this year by the ongoing Exercise Malabar and the earlier held TROPEX (Theater Readiness Operational Exercise). TROPEX reflected a shift in the mindset of Indian strategists from focusing exclusively on maneuvers for protection of the immediate littoral to combat concepts fixated around a larger maritime theater. It was a departure from considering Pakistan its main adversary and suggested an increasingly significant emphasis on China as the primary strategic threat. The Indian Navy’s plans to establish two carrier task forces affords it a limited window to finalize the design for its second indigenous aircraft carrier given the protracted schedule required to construct and operationalize a carrier battle group.

In the past decade, there has been a general change in strategic thinking in both Beijing and New Delhi. Policymakers have realized the importance of having dynamic maritime capabilities. This reflects a major doctrinal shift in the grand strategy of the two nations, which have usually revolved around developing traditional continental forces aimed at countering threats along their land borders.

In this regard, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA-N) has increased investment in naval forces and has established dominance over its regional waters. The PLA-N is asserting its naval power in the South China Sea and is simultaneously holding live-fire exercises in the open seas from the southeast Indian Ocean to the eastern Pacific. These actions threaten the overarching security situation in the wider maritime theater, and countries in the region are growing progressively uncertain about China’s intentions. The capabilities of most navies in the wider maritime theater are paltry in comparison to the PLA-N — and China plans to continue its naval build up. Given this escalating security dilemma, the Indian Navy is the only resident power in South Asia that has the resources and capabilities to counter the emerging strategic imbalance in the maritime theater. The Indian Navy had previously taken a defensive approach and concentrated resources on developing credible anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities, as the immediate concern for the strategists in New Delhi was Chinese submarines roaming in their backyard.

Despite a change in thinking, the commitment of the Indian Navy to see its new maritime doctrine through from defense white papers to the open waters hangs in doubt, given the history of bureaucratic delays, inefficient procurement, and ineffectual financing. The delay in its indigenous aircraft carrier program is a prime example. China is clearly moving ahead of India, with plans to induct its second indigenously produced aircraft-carrier into service before 2020. Meanwhile, India has struggled to meet deadlines for the INS Vikrant, its first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1).

In this race of aircraft carriers, India’s only saving grace could be the follow-on project, INS Vishal (IAC-2). This single supercarrier may push India to a dominant position in the long-term fight for naval superiority with China over the maritime commons of the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Vishal could possibly be the first nuclear powered supercarrier built in Asia. The discussion around the Indian Navy’s maritime strategy is centered around the IAC-2 to such an extent that it has decided to shelve plans to develop an indigenously produced aircraft in favor of procuring a better multi-role fighter aircraft that would suit the capabilities of the Vishal. The Vishal’s main selling point is its proposed nuclear propulsion engine. Russia, India’s long-trusted defense and arms supplier, jumped on board to deliver the aircraft carrier, and the Indian establishment has also sent letters of request to multiple European nations. There is also the possibility that India may shun foreign reactors altogether and built its own indigenous reactor for marine propulsion.

The United States, however, is poised to be the preferred partner in this initiative as it holds the most advanced technology for nuclear propulsion in aircraft carriers, and India has progressively increased its defense cooperation with the United States. Toward this end, India and the United States signed an agreement to share research and technology for an aircraft carrier that fits these requirements. The other area of cooperation in this partnership would be fitting the Vishal with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (assuming nuclear propulsion), which would allow it to launch heavier aircraft like larger fighters, airborne early-warning aircraft, and refueling tankers.

Ultimately, in the long-term, the future of the Indian Navy will be built around the INS Vishal, and it is imperative that the strategists of New Delhi realize that this single venture will decide the fate of the navy’s ambitious modernization plans. The planning and design for Vishal is still in its initial stages, and this has led to delays in procurement of support vessels that will make up the carrier strike group. The success of this program depends on the Indian establishment shedding its previous inhibitions and adopting a more steadfast attitude to the rise of Chinese naval power in the Indian Ocean. It requires the government of the day to engage the United States in transferring technology never made available before, even to close allies.

Most importantly, if India is to deploy carrier strike groups to both of its maritime frontiers — the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal — it must develop better manufacturing facilities and realize the costs underlying its most ambitious project yet. The cost of building and maintaining a nuclear carrier strike group will run into the billions and would require a significantly larger allocation of the defense budget to the navy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has given priority to India’s maritime interests in the entire Indo-Asia-Pacific, and the comments of an Indian minister supporting freedom of navigation and overflight in the disputed waters of the South China Sea supplement this view. India Naval Chief Sunil Lanba has touted India as a “net security provider in the Indian Ocean.” A 65,000-ton supercarrier would give India the ability to achieve it all but, for this to become a reality, New Delhi must shed its traditional lethargy and shake things up.

Aircraft Carrier Capabilities (Present & Planned) – India, China & United States

Name Class Type Displacement(tonnage) Status^ Operator
Vikramaditya Kiev Conventional 45,000 Operational India*
Vikrant (IAC-1) Vikrant Conventional 40,000 Est. 2023 India
Vishal (IAC-2) Vikrant TBD 65,000 Est. 2030 India
Liaoning Kuzentsov Conventional 60,000 Operational China*
Shandong Kuzentsov Conventional 70,000 Est. 2020 China
Type 002 Type 002 Conventional 85,000 Est. 2023 China
CVN (68,69,70)Nimitz

CVN (71,72,73,74,75)
Theodore Roosevelt
CVN (76, 77)
Ronald Reagan

Nimitz Nuclear Average- 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Operational United States
CVN 79 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2020 United States
CVN 80 Gerald R. Ford Nuclear 100,000 Est. 2025 United States
 *The Russian Federation/USSR was the original manufacturer/operator of the carriers.
^The estimated times are for the year when the carrier is scheduled to be commissioned.

Mr. Tuneer Mukherjee is a former intern at the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at CSIS and holds a master’s from the American University School of International Service. Follow him on twitter @MTuneer

Featured Image: Indian Navy carrier INS Vikramaditya (Indian Navy photo)

Indian Maritime Airpower Pt. 1

This article originally featured on South Asia Defence and Strategic Review and is republished with permission.

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd) 

The once fierce IN-IAF debate about the relative efficacy of carrier-borne airpower versus shore-based airpower supported by airborne replenishment tankers has largely been muted by the availability of budgetary support for both. In fact, serious practitioners of India’s military airpower now include all three Indian Armed Forces. In terms of their holdings, operational reach, and logistical complexity, they rank in the following order: the Indian Air Force, the Indian Navy, and the Indian Army. However, the country’s paramilitary forces, too, — most especially the Indian Coast Guard and, to a lesser extent, the Air Wing of the Border Security Force (BSF) — have a significant role in the deployment of military airpower within the country and its maritime zones.  Driving this more ‘egalitarian’ approach is the growing realization that India’s rise demands an urgent and substantive investment in all dimensions of national security. These include internal (societal) as well as external dimensions. They also include intangible facets (building trust-capital, education and human resource skilling, sustainable resource-management, etc.,) as well as tangible ones (infrastructure, technology, manpower, equipment, etc.) Importantly, the investment of large sums of money is common to all of these. 

Narrowing our focus to the tangible facets of our external security, and further, to an examination of available options for the application of air power for maritime security, we find India once again in a rather unenviable position for a self-avowed major maritime power. In the coming month or two, the Indian Navy will (very unwisely and very prematurely, in the opinion of this writer) decommission the Viraat — mainly for lack of her integral Sea Harrier aircraft, which have already been phased out. This decision is typically that of a new toy relegating an older one to the basement and is probably due to the ‘Air Force-conditioning’ of the Navy’s senior naval aviators who were at the apex levels of the Navy when this decision was made. The fact that a duly constituted Board of Officers (BoO) took this decision is merely a fig leaf of a cover, for the BoO’s decision would have been governed and bound by Terms of Reference given to it. The Viraat, in her earlier avatar as the Hermes, has served admirably as a commando carrier and is internally equipped to embark and sustain 900 fully armed troops. Thus, even as the induction of four new Landing Platforms Dock (LPD) remains mired in the Kafkaesque labyrinth of the South and North Blocks where the Ministries of Defence and Finance play their own version of the Pentagon Wars, the Navy has squandered the opportunity of sustaining the Viraat as an immediately available ‘Landing Platform: Helicopter’ (LPH). The ship ought to have been delinked from frontline Fleet operations, made to embark 16 ALH (the time-intensiveness of their blade-folding would not be an issue as they would be required solely for deliberate deployment and not for reactionary ones), and been used to gain invaluable procedural and operational-logistical experience for amphibious operations. But that, as the aphorism goes, is another story that will be dilated upon elsewhere. 

Where frontline Fleet operations are concerned, the new Vikrant is still a couple of years away from induction, and in the interim, the Vikramaditya and her integral air group (comprising MiG-29K variants and a woefully inadequate number of rotary-wing aircraft such as the Kamov-31, and the venerable Sea King Mk 42B and Chetak) will be all that can be fielded for the critical here-and-now element of naval airpower.On the other hand, we have the media-driven hype and hoopla over the several aerospace exhibitions and related mega-events that are being organized with increasing frequency under the ‘Make-in-India’ banner — and often by one or another ‘chamber of commerce.’ These certainly cause adrenaline rushes and surges of nationalistic fervor, but good advertising cannot for long compensate for the lack of a good product. On perhaps a more useful level, however, all this serves to generate a renewed examination of the available options in respect of this desired air power. As a consequence, debates are reignited on the ‘desirability’ versus ‘affordability,’ and the ‘desirability’ versus the ‘survivability’ of aircraft carriers versus land-based air power, contextualized not only to the prevailing security environment, but also to that expected to prevail in the immediately foreseeable future. Thus, while the criticality of the maritime domain — and that of the military maritime domain — is beyond any reasonable doubt, the question is whether aircraft carriers do, indeed, provide the biggest ‘bang’ for our collective ‘buck.’ 

As mentioned above, there are two fundamental threads along which this debate tends to proceed. The first argues for and against the ‘cost’ — or, more appropriately (even if less frequently), the ‘cost-effectiveness’ — of aircraft carriers, both within the paradigm of conflict as well as outside of it. The second examines the survivability (defensibility) of aircraft carriers in the contemporary and foreseeable battle milieu.  

Since the option of not having any airborne surveillance or combat capability at all is one that all schools of thought reject, it is relevant to compare the ‘costs’ involved and the ‘cost-effectiveness’ accruing from sea-based (integral) airpower versus land-based airpower. Inevitably, the steep cost of an aircraft carrier makes it the subject of intense scrutiny by experts and the lay public alike. And indeed, an informed debate is entirely right and proper for it is public taxes that allow one or the other option to be exercised.  Of course, the operative word there is ‘informed.’ 

Cost Comparison between Airbases at Sea and on Land 

It is true that a modern aircraft carrier costs an enormous amount of money to procure, even more to construct indigenously, and even more for it to be operated and periodically maintained (refitted), along with its complement of aircraft, over the several decades of its operational life. Available open-source inputs indicate that the final cost of the Vikramaditya has been of the order of ₹ 12,500 Crore (USD ~$1.8 billion), while the ongoing construction of the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (the Vikrant) will reportedly cost the exchequer some ₹ 24,000 Crore (USD ~$3.6 billion) although this latter figure also includes the cost of infrastructure enhancement of the Cochin Shipyard, where the Vikrant is being built. These are very considerable sums of money. What about the costs of the shore-based air-power option? There are equally forbidding costs to be airborne here as well — in the construction and periodic maintenance of ‘coastal’, ‘inland’ and ‘forward’ IAF airbases. For instance, just the replacement cost of a single runway on an existing air force base can easily cross ₹ 600 Crore.  In the case of a ‘virgin’ airbase, the construction cost would have to include land-leveling and associated land-development costs as well. At the USA’s Atlanta airport, for example, the cost of adding a fifth runway capable of routinely handling wide-bodied jet aircraft was $1.24 billion which is about ₹ 7,500 Crore. Add to this the cost of the parallel taxi track, the sheltered, bombproof hangars, the ATC, the various radars, navigational and communication equipment, and the self-defense wherewithal—and one ends up with a cost far in excess of the overall cost of construction of an indigenous aircraft carrier.

The largest and the first indigenously-built, 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier (IAC) named INS Vikrant was undocked on 10 Jun 2015 at a simple ceremony held at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL). (Indian Navy photo)  

Some analysts, in attempting to counter the inclusion of all this airbase infrastructure have tried to inflate the cost of the aircraft carrier by adding the life-cycle cost of the escort forces which, together with the carrier itself, make up a Carrier Battle Group. However, the difference is that even without the aircraft carrier each of these warships that comprise the CBG are potent and eminently deployable platforms, while without the aircraft that it supports, shore-based infrastructure is meaningless. However, the lack of mobility of an airbase ashore is where the aircraft carrier really scores over the former. Each aircraft carrier provides for an extensively mobile’airbase, thereby virtualizing a number of static ones. Once the emotive content is removed from the comparative equation, the aircraft carrier, with its operational life of some 45-50 years, is readily seen to offer the most cost-effective option for dealing with mobile maritime threats. That said, it is equally obvious that shore-based threats that emanate deep inland (and which must be countered there) cannot be met by carrier-borne airpower.  There is, thus, little option but to simultaneously incur the expenditure required to build up the nation’s shore-based airpower, most especially that of the Indian Air Force.  

Carrier Survivability 

This brings us to the question of the survivability (defensibility) of the aircraft carrier in the contemporary and foreseeable battle milieu.           

Several Indian analysts worriedly point to the acquisition by potential adversaries of reconnaissance satellites, anti-ship ballistic missiles, supersonic (and now ‘hypersonic’) long-range cruise missiles, nuclear-propelled attack submarines (SSNs), very quiet diesel-electric submarines, and so on. These are serious apprehensions and neither can nor should evoke glib responses that are driven by empty bravado. There are real lives involved and that too, in large numbers. A modern aircraft carrier is run by a highly trained crew of well over 1,500 men. This roughly corresponds to one-and-a-half Infantry Battalions of the Indian Army! Other than in a nuclear war, it is impossible for the Indian Army to lose one-and-a-half battalions to enemy combat-power in just a few minutes. However, the fact this magnitude of human loss may occur in so compressed a timeframe is exactly what could happen were one of the Indian Navy’s contemporary aircraft carriers to be sunk as a result of enemy action. The effect upon residual fighting capability, as also upon resultant morale at the Naval, Armed Forces, and national levels would be no less catastrophic. Hence issues involving a careful vulnerability-assessment and equally careful vulnerability-mitigation are serious matters that merit serious and informed discussion and debate. 

Operational Employment 

As mentioned in the cover story of the Nov-Dec 2016 edition of this magazine (See “The Indian Navy, Rising to New Challenges”, pp. 19-23), in order to maximize her options for strategic or operational maneuver (at the regional-theater level) in responding to military aggression by potentially adversarial nation-states such as China and Pakistan, India is inevitably driven to acquire, possess and master ‘blue water’ naval capability. This capability is centered upon the Carrier Battle Group (CBG), which is a synergistic and mutually-supporting conglomerate of warships centered upon an aircraft carrier, such that the combat-capability of the group as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is very important to bear in mind that it is the group and not the aircraft carrier alone that must remain the central point of reference and it is a basic analytical error to try and fractionalize the CBG. Of course, not all analysts are able to resist the temptation of analyzing the aircraft carrier as a standalone ship (largely because a carrier is so hugely symbolic and tends to attract so much attention). The net result is the development of a set of apparently sophisticated but nevertheless fallacious arguments relating to the real and perceived vulnerabilities of this single platform alone. 

A typical combat-engagement cycle involves sequential Surveillance, Detection, Classification, Identification, Localization, Tracking, Attack-Criteria (i.e. Evasion / Engagement), and Damage Assessment. It is against this cycle that the vulnerability of an Indian CBG in times of conflict needs to be assessed. The first problem for an enemy that seeks the destruction of an aircraft carrier of the size and type under discussion is one of combat surveillance and resultant detection.  

CBGs routinely put to sea well before any crisis deteriorates into conflict and would invariably have been judiciously positioned firmly within ‘blue-waters.’ The fact that all carrier-operating navies realize the folly of keeping aircraft carriers in harbor and put them out to sea well in time is borne out by history. In the six years of the Second World War, only one aircraft carrier (the Imperial Japanese Ship Amagi) was ever sunk while in port. Thus, as Dr. Loren Thompson of the USA’s Lexington Institute reminds us, “…the most basic protection the carrier has against being detected… is distance. The areas in which carriers typically operate are so vast that adversaries would be hard-pressed to find them even in the absence of active countermeasures by the battle group.” 

The magnitude of this problem needs to be appreciated. The Indian Ocean has an area of some 73.6 million square kilometers. Even if one were to consider just the 3.86 million square kilometers of the Arabian Sea alone, it would be obvious that continuous surveillance of such a large water body is well outside current capabilities of any form of shore-based radar, including the much touted Over-the-Horizon ones. Persistent surveillance by sea-based radars (aboard ships and submarines) is a complex affair. The average range of detection by a shipborne radar of a large surface ship is only about 30 nm (56 km), thereby yielding detection within an area (πr2) of 9852 km², which is just 0.2 percent of the Arabian Sea! For the entire Arabian Sea to be kept under surveillance against a CBG, one would need some 471 ships, each with continuously-operating surface-detection radar, manned on a ‘24 x 7’ basis by a set of highly trained and constantly awake and alert radar operators. Persistent surveillance by submarines is a non-starter as detection-ranges are significantly lower due to the low height of the radar antenna — apart from not being an operationally viable option.

Consequently, the options of choice are satellite-based oceanic surveillance and oceanic surveillance by airborne radars. However, since any contemporary Indian CBG would be quite comfortably able to cover a distance of some 900-1,000 km in a 24-hour period, real-time detection is needed. Insofar as satellite-based detection is concerned, this calls for ground stations whose footprint would enable real time downloads of imagery (electro-optical, radar, infrared, or whatever) of medium/large objects detected at sea. An adversary seeking to make the Indian Ocean transparent must therefore possess an adequate number of adequately located ground stations. As the name implies, ground stations require ground. Such an adversary must, therefore, possess adequate territory upon which ground stations can be positioned — even if such ground stations are contemporary, small, and/or portable ones, such as the U.S./NATO ‘RAPIDS’ (Resource and Program Information Development System). All this is well beyond the current or near-term capabilities of either of India’s likely adversaries.

Turning finally to airborne detection, this is typically achieved through shore-based Long Range Maritime Patrol’ (LRMP) aircraft such as the P3C Orion, the Boeing P8I, etc. Pakistan has some capability within the Arabian Sea and China has some marginal capability at the eastern fringes of the Bay of Bengal. These capabilities are further degraded by the Indian Navy’s deployment pattern in respect of the CBG. In accordance of the principles of maneuver warfare (as opposed to those of attrition warfare), the CBG would not normally be deployed where the enemy’s tri-service strength is the greatest — in this case, within the unrefuelled combat radius of an intact enemy’s shore-based Fighter Ground Attack (FGA) aircraft. Indeed, the deployment pattern of the CBG is an overarching factor that is germane right across the combat-engagement cycle under consideration.  

But what if detection is, indeed, achieved? How survivable is the aircraft carrier thereafter? This is what the second part of this article will explore…stay tuned. 

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

Featured image: Admiral Gorshkov under refit to become INS Vikramaditya. Note ski deck. (Photo via Defense.pk)

India’s Bid for Global Power in a Multipolar System During Development

Note: Original title of essay: “Rising in the Storm: India’s Bid for Global Power in a Multi-Polar System During Development.”


By Corey Bolyard

India is the most populous democracy in the world with 1.2 billion people and potential for intense economic growth.1 India seeks to protect its regional interests and become more involved in global power politics while balancing the needs of its economy and people. India must engage in economic reform to stimulate development and support an increasingly assertive foreign policy. By engaging in economic reform, India will have the opportunity to develop and exploit its large population and economic opportunity to become a global power in an increasingly multi-polar system, thereby allowing for an ambitious foreign policy permitting India to protect its interests in South Asia and act as the preeminent power in the region.

Economic development is key to India’s global status. Without a strong economy, India cannot provide for its citizens, much less engage in global affairs and find its place in a multi-polar system. India has a GDP of 2.2 trillion USD, but 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, hindering India’s continued growth.2 India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, promised substantial economic reform and introduced the “Make in India,” program in 2014, but the democratic process is slow. “Make in India,” is a nationalistic program that would boost India’s growth from within and improve the manufacturing sector.3 Manufacturing would provide a low-education alternative to India’s waning agricultural industry, but current labor laws stunt this sector, leaving few options for this segment of the population.4 Internal manufacturing would advance domestic development, but requires foreign investment to propel economic growth to a competitive global rate. Part of Modi’s proposed reforms would allow increased foreign investment in sectors such as coal, construction, railways, and multi- and single-brand retail, which would allow India to boost development.5 Many promised reforms are either in progress or incomplete. A demonetization reform took high currency bills out of circulation in late 2016 to curb the black market economy.6 India is in the process of digitization, moving toward a cashless economy, which would help reform tax administration and enhance government revenue.7 Modi’s government has showed a willingness to engage in economic reform despite the difficult process, and must continue to push for economic development driven by external aid and internal growth to elevate India to global leadership in an increasingly competitive global political stage.

India’s vivid democracy plays a key role in its economic advance. India’s citizens are engaged in democracy, with a voter turnout of 66.4 percent in the 2014 parliamentary elections.Freedom House, a prominent NGO, denotes India as “Free,” with press and net freedoms as “partially free.”9 Transparency International ranked India 79 in the world in its 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, with a final score of 40 that tied India with Brazil, Belarus, and China.10 However, there are some concerns for democracy in India. The Human Rights Watch World Report 2017 identifies a lack of accountability for police violence, treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, and the government’s use of sedition and defamation laws to persecute citizens.11 There is growing economic disparity in the country and a history of corruption, perceived and real. India is experiencing major demographic change, and the government’s ability to exploit this positively will determine future capabilities. India is ending a demographic transition and is almost at replacement-level fertility, which can become a great opportunity for India’s pursuit of global status. India’s working class will continue to grow over the next half-century, as the adult population will comprise 68 percent of India’s population in 2035.12 The demographic dividend is an opportunity for India, but does not guarantee growth, as economic opportunities must be available for this large population.13 Several factors India’s government must resolve include educational deficits, high unemployment, and a policy environment conducive to promoting competitive economic development globally.14 Due to India’s complex democracy at the state and federal level, reform and change is slow to proceed. India’s leadership must find a sustainable way to manage its population and economic goals regardless of their form. Through careful management, India’s democracy can succeed in implementing its domestic and economic policies, which will make it possible for India to focus on its foreign policy concerns.

India sees itself as the preeminent power in South Asia, but is dependent on economic growth for global success. India’s foreign policy focuses on improving relationships among South Asian countries with a “neighborhood first” policy through increased trade and aid.15 Economic integration in the neighborhood is low, as interregional trade makes up only five percent of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation’s (SAARC) economic activity.16 With higher integration there is less tension and increased trade, giving India more opportunities to enhance its global position. India and China both see South Asia as a sphere of influence, and India is investing in its neighbors as part of a counterbalancing strategy to China, increasing the Ministry of External Affairs 2017 budget by 200 million USD.17 India sees China’s ‘One Belt, One Road,’ initiative as a threat to its economic and political dominance in the region, particularly the creation of a Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).18 Tension between Pakistan and India has great potential for conflict. India is the status quo power of the two nations, since it controls most of the disputed territories, has a stronger military, and has greater diplomatic standing, but both nations possess nuclear weapons and high tensions lead to an elevated risk of conflict.19 India is expanding its military capabilities and is the largest defense importer in the world, buying 15 percent of total world exports of weapons in the past five years.20 India has always followed a strategy of non-alignment and openly eschews cooperative alliances, preferring cooperative or bilateral relations for security. India must balance China and Pakistan, as open conflict would be disastrous and Chinese investment can help the Indian economy grow. In the interest of protecting interests and finding a place in a multi-polar system, India must decide if non-alignment is a viable path going forward or if closer relations with nations such as the United States, Japan, and Australia are worth the risk. Reviving quadrilateral dialogue among these four nations may be the logical next step for India’s foreign policy. A “democratic quad” increases India’s soft and hard power capabilities, but could alienate other countries in the region.21 

India’s decisions on economic reform and foreign policy will determine if it remains a developing country or rises to a key place in global politics. The government must find a way to implement economic reform to benefit its demographic dividend. Attracting foreign investment, implementing economic reform, and providing opportunities for its growing population will give India the economic strength to engage in an assertive foreign policy that will help define India’s role as a global leader among competitive powers. India must engage in economic development to support an assertive foreign policy as India navigates changing global power balances to give its people a path forward.

Corey Bolyard attends University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA where she is majoring in Political Science with a focus in Asian Policy and Regional Security. She is currently working on a thesis concerning China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative.  Upon graduation, she hopes to work in national security analysis. Her round table paper “Rising in the Storm: India’s Bid for Global Power in a Multi-Polar System During Development argues that by engaging in economic reform, India will be able to emerge as a global power, thereby allowing for an ambitious foreign policy to defend and develop its interests in the South Asia Region.


1. “South Asia: India,” Central Intelligence Agency: The World Factbook, Dec. 12, 2016, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html.

2. “South Asia: India,” Central Intelligence Agency: The World Factbook.

3. About Us,” Make In India, accessed March 27, 2017, http://www.makeinindia.com/about.

4. “The Difficulties of Retooling the Indian Economy,” Stratfor, 2016, accessed March 28, 2017, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/difficulties-retooling-indian-economy.

5. “The Modi Government’s Reform Program: A Scorecard,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, accessed March 28, 2017, http://indiareforms.csis.org/.

6. Mukesh Butani, “State election results: Strong mandate for bold economic reforms,” Forbes India, March 18, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.forbesindia.com/article/special/state-election-results-strong-mandate-for-bold-economic-reforms/46329/1.

7. Wade Shepard, “A Cashless Future Is The Real Goal Of India’s Demonetization Move,” Forbes, December 14, 2016, accessed March 30, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/wadeshepard/2016/12/14/inside-indias-cashless-revolution/.

8. “India Voter Turnout,” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, accessed March 27, 2017, http://www.idea.int/data-tools/country-view/146/40.

9. “India,” Freedom House, accessed March 27, 2017, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2016/india.

10. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016,” Transparency International, January 25, 2017, accessed March 27, 2017, http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016#tableOf all the countries listed in TI’s Corruption Perception’s Index, India is listed in the upper half by rank. With a perfect score of 100, India’s score of 40 is lower than its rank.    

11. “Human Rights Watch World Report 2016: India,” Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2017, accessed March 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/india.

12. KS James, “India’s Demographic Change: Opportunities and Challenges,” Science 333, no. 6042 (July 29, 2011):578, accessed March 29, 2017, doi:10.1126/science.1207969.

13. KS James, “India’s Demographic Change: Opportunities and Challenges,” Science, 578.

14. Ibid., 578-579.

15. “A Defining Rivalry in South Asia,” Stratfor, February 24, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/defining-rivalry-south-asia.

16. “A Defining Rivalry in South Asia,” Stratfor.

17. Monish Gulati, “What India’s Finance Budget Means For Its Foreign Policy – Analysis,” Eurasia Review, March 03, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.eurasiareview.com/04032017-what-indias-finance-budget-means-for-its-foreign-policy-analysis/.

18. Ananth Krishnan, “India cannot stop Silk Road plan, warns Chinese media,” India Today, March 20, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/china-warns-india-cannot-stop-silk-road-plan/1/908010.html.

19. “In India, a Military Strategy Guided by Precision,” Stratfor, October 6, 2016, accessed March 28, 2017, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/india-military-strategy-guided-precision.

20. “How Losing India’s Business Could Ruin Russia’s Defense Industry,” Stratfor, January 27, 2017, accessed March 28, 2017, https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/how-losing-indias-business-could-ruin-russias-defense-industry.

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Featured Image: School children arrive to watch the proceedings of Indian parliament in New Delhi December 7, 2012. (Reuters/Stringer)

India’s Submarine Arm — Returning to Even-Trim

This article originally featured in Geopolitics and is republished with permission.  

By Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd)

The Indian Navy’s Submarine Arm will celebrate its Golden Jubilee Year in 2017. The imminent commissioning of the Kalvari — in her new avatar as India’s first Scorpène Class submarine — is, therefore, an especially timely portent of happier times for the underwater sentinels of our freedom. For some time now, much media-time has been devoted to lamenting the several perceived inadequacies in the country’s submarine prowess, especially after the tragedy that struck INS Sindhurakshak in Mumbai on 14 August 2013, resulting in the loss of 18 precious lives and the loss of an invaluable combat platform. As the Scorpène program ran into time overruns and as the People’s Republic of China began submarine forays into the Indian Ocean, breathless TV anchors defense correspondents have invoked ‘Upgrade’ as a new and urgent mantra against Chinese machinations. The truth is, of course, somewhat more prosaic. ‘Upgrades’ are part of a normal naval response to the technological and tactical changes wrought by the evolution of naval operations through which armed combat is prosecuted upon, over or under the sea. Can technological upgrades make up for numerical limitations? The answer is not straightforward. Although quantity does have a quality all of its own, in undersea warfare, technology has an inordinate influence upon the outcome of combat. So how do we currently fare in terms of both, absolute quantity, and the quality of the quantity that we do have — and what is the prognosis for the immediate future?

Before answers to these questions can be attempted, it is important to understand that warfare at sea differs markedly from that of armed combat upon the land. Terrain is arguably the most important determinant of land-based combat and, as a consequence, armies have goals of ‘occupation’ or ‘possession’ or ‘eviction.’ At sea, however, the effect of terrain diminishes sharply as the distance from the coast increases. The sea is fundamentally a medium of movement and cannot be ‘fortified’ or ‘occupied’. Navies cannot ‘dig-in’ and ‘hold’ sea areas that have great intrinsic value. Consequently, the aims of naval operations revolve around the ‘use’ or ‘denial-of-use’ of specific areas of the sea for a specific period of time. If we want to use a specific area of the sea for a specific period of time AND we don’t want the enemy to interfere with our use, we must exercise what is called ‘Sea Control’ in that sea area and for that period of time. If, however, we do not have any interest in using a specific area of the sea for a specific period of time, BUT we merely do not want the enemy to use it, we must exercise what is called ‘Sea Denial’ — once again in that sea area and for that period of time. Submarines (along with sea-mines) are classic platforms for sea-denial operations. Another feature of combat at sea is that the hunter and the hunted can operate in totally different mediums (surface, sub-surface, air/aero-space), each pretty much oblivious of the presence of the other — as in the case of submarines versus ships or submarines pitted against aircraft — whether fixed-wing or rotary-wing, manned or unmanned. 

Submarines have traditionally been used as a counter to surface ships — both, merchantmen (easy pickings) and warships (far riskier an endeavour). This is where they have the most advantage, operating in a different medium from their adversary and being able to vary their depth to take advantage of the various density-layers that lie between the surface and the sea-bed and affect the propagation of sound underwater. Weapons employed in such cases are typically anti-ship torpedoes and/or anti-ship cruise (i.e., non-ballistic) missiles. Submarines can also be used against targets ashore (on the land) — i.e., for land-attack. They must then be equipped (or be retrofitted) with suitable land-attack missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads. Naturally, this impacts the size of the submarine’s hull and imposes restrictions upon how close it can approach the coast. 

When submarines are designed or deployed to operate against other submarines, the advantages accruing from disparity of medium no longer apply, for both opponents are now within the same (underwater) medium and torpedoes become weapons-of-choice. Since submarines generate underwater sound in a variety of frequencies, the factor determining surprise is relative noisiness — more usually expressed as ‘stealth.’ SSBNs are inherently noisy. Consequently, smaller and equally speedy but much quieter SSNs, equipped with missiles and torpedoes instead of nuclear-tipped, long-range ballistic missiles are deployed to detect and continuously track an adversary’s SSBNs. Likewise, modern diesel-electric submarines (SSKs) are often far quieter than an SSN and are designed to track and, where necessary, attack not just surface ships but also SSNs — or even other, relatively-noisier diesel-electric submarines. 

Nuclear propulsion maximizes underwater speed and endurance, but demands a larger hull and constrains the submarine in littoral waters. Diesel-electric submarines are far smaller than SSNs and SSBNs and can, consequently, operate both, in the deep seas and in relatively-shallow littoral waters. They make-up for their relative lack of underwater-endurance by one or another type of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) package, but nevertheless yield enormous underwater speed-advantages to SSNs/SSBNs.

It is against this very rudimentary and fairly simplistic backdrop that one should review the state of Indian submarines (aka boats) and their upgrades. 

India currently operates two classes of nuclear-propelled boats: SSBNs (the Arihant) and SSNs (the Chakra), and, two classes of diesel-electric SSKs (the KILO or Sindhughosh Class, and the Type 209/1500 Shishumar Class), with the commissioning of the lead boat of a third class — the Scorpène Class (which will thereafter be known as the Kalvari Class) — imminent. 

Current upgrades to the Arihant revolve about the replacement of its twelve ‘K-15’ submarine-launched ballistic missiles (which have a range of 750 km) by four longer-range (3,500 km) ‘K-4’ Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM), which have already been successfully test-launched (in April 2015) from the Arihant. This weapon-upgrade is well in hand.  However, as India takes the next step in the K-series and begins to produce K-5 — a true submarine-launched inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) — the submarine will need to be correspondingly larger with a greater displacement-tonnage. Consequently, for the next boat of the Class, the Arindham, there is a clear need to upgrade the reactor. The Arihant has an 85-MWt reactor (≈17 MWe, since in a naval reactor, roughly 5 MWt = 1 Mwe). The one for the larger and heavier Arindham will need to be somewhere between 160-190 MWt (32-38 MWe) and this is an upgrade that is ongoing.

There is no immediate equipment upgrade planned for the Chakra whose 10-year lease is at the halfway mark. However, the fact that in February 2015, the Modi government accorded political approval for six SSNs, makes a training and manpower upgrade for the Navy a critical objective over the next decade.

Turning now to the central issue of upgrades to India’s conventional submarines, two overarching aspects need to be borne in mind: 

  • The first is that contrary to some mildly hysterical reports in the electronic media, these upgrades are not a knee-jerk reaction to the large Chinese submarine inventory or Pakistan’s submarine program. Nor are they some desperate measure being taken to counter inadequacies in the numbers of submarines held by India. Even if the Indian Navy had three times as many submarines as it does, periodic upgrades would still be the norm. 
  • The second is that contrary to the alarmist lament that India’s diesel-electric submarines — especially the nine surviving boats of the Sindhughosh Class — have crossed their designed-life and are not much better than floating coffins the truth is much more reassuring. The authorized total technical service life of each submarine is actually 35 years. At or around the 13th year of service, each boat undergoes what is known as a ‘Medium Refit’ (MR). This takes two-to-three years, during which time, major upgrades are effected and the submarine is made ready to operate in the contemporary environment for another decade-plus. Then, around the 26th year of service, each boat undergoes a 27-month Service Life Extension Program (SLEP), which enables it to be materially and operationally viable — once again within the prevailing contemporary environment — for the next 9-10 years.

Most MRs of the Sindhughosh Class, have been undertaken in Russia. However, two — Sindhudvaj and Sindhudvaj — underwent MRs at the Naval Dockyard, Visakhapatnam, while the Sindhukirti suffered a dreadfully protracted MR in HSL. The Sindhukesari is the first to have commenced her SLEP. The residual life of the Class may be assessed through the following tabulation:

Submarine Commissioned 13th Year Medium Refit


MR done in: 26th Year SLEP (done in) 35th Year
Sindhughosh 30 Apr 86 Apr 99 2002-05 Russia Apr 12 Apr 21
Sindhudhvaj 12 Jun 87 Jun 00 2002-05 India (ND[V]) Jun 13 Jun 22
Sindhuraj 20 Oct 87 Oct 00 1999-01 Russia Oct 13 Oct 22
Sindhuvir 26 Aug 88 Aug 01 1997-99 Russia Aug 14 Aug 23
Sindhuratna 22 Dec 88 Dec 01 2001-03 Russia Dec 14 Dec 23
Sindhukesari 16 Feb 89 Feb 02 1999-01 Russia Feb 15 2016-2018 (Russia) Feb 24
Sindhukirti 04 Jan 90 Jan 03 2006-15 India (HSL) Jan 16 Jan 25
Sindhuvijay 08 Mar 91 Mar 04 2005-07 Russia Mar 17 Mar 26
Sindhushastra 19 Jul 00 Jul 13 2013-17 India (ND[V]) Jul 26 Jul 39

The corresponding tabulation in regard to the Shishumar Class (Type 209/1500) SSKs is similarly instructive:

Submarine Commissioned 13th Year Medium Refit


MR done in: 26th Year SLEP (done in) 35th Year
Shishumar 22 Sep 86 Sep 89 Jun 98-Mar 01 Mumbai Sep 15 Sep 24
Shankush 20 Nov 86 Nov 89 Aug 00-Mar 06 Mumbai Nov 15 Nov 24
Shalki 07 Feb 92 Feb 05 Mar 07-Jul 10 Mumbai Feb 18 Feb 27
Shankul 28 May 94 May 07 Feb 08-Jun 12 Mumbai May 20 May 29

With ‘alarm’ having been removed from the equation, it is possible to dispassionately examine a few major thrust lines relevant to ongoing and planned upgrades. For the professional naval submariner — planner and practitioner alike — upgrades-of-choice are those that enhance:

  • Stealth
  • Endurance
  • Sensor Performance:
    • Radar
    • Sonar
    • ESM
  • Communication
  • External Situational Awareness (Combat-Information Management Systems)
  • Internal Situation Awareness and Control of the Internal-Environment (Platform-Management-and-Control Systems)
  • Weapons and weapon-delivery systems
  • Safety and Survivability Systems

These upgrades may be either through indigenous or foreign replacements of the original equipment. Obviously, the former is preferable and, indeed, has yielded laudable results. 

Stealth-Enhancement. Although such upgrades are often considered by our breathless media analysts as not being ‘sexy’ enough to merit focused-attention, in truth, stealth is always a life-and-death issue in submarine combat. With the hull design being resistant to any modification or change, these upgrades pertain to the reduction of vibrations and the underwater transmission of these vibrations as sound waves that can be picked up by an adversary’s passive listening devices. Thus, engineering-improvements to propulsion equipment such as speed-governors, bearings, fuel racks, supercharges clearances, and rotating machinery such as superior bearings, pumps, rubber-mounts, etc., count as major— albeit largely unacknowledged — upgrades.  Indigenization has been both successful and invaluable, with the increasing involvement of the Indian private sector companies such as L&T, Mahindra, Reliance, Tata, Siemens, Yeoman, Exide, Elcome, etc., being most encouraging.

Endurance-Enhancement. Although enhanced submarine endurance is almost invariably associated with the provision of AIP systems or nuclear-propulsion, habitability is another factor that directly impacts submarine endurance. For instance, the original air conditioning plants (35 TR capacity) aboard the Sindhughosh Class, which were grossly inadequate in Indian conditions, have been upgraded by indigenous (KPCL) plants of 67 TR capacity. This upgrade has increased the life of the on-board weapon-sensor suites and allied equipment, and, has enhanced operational endurance by improving habitability and reducing environmental human-fatigue. Where batteries are concerned, the upgrade to indigenous production by Exide Industries is stable and world-class — so much so that exports to Algeria and Iran have also been achieved. HBL-Nife is another success story in battery-production. 

Sensor-Performance Enhancement


  • The NSTL-developed and BEL-produced Panchendriya FCS and USHUS bow-mounted cylindrical array — have certainly had their share of protracted teething troubles but the systems have settled down and are delivering world-class performances on each of the six retrofitted boats of the Sindhughosh. This upgrade is in progress as part of the ongoing MR of Sindhukirti, leaving only Sindhuratna and Sindhuvir with the original (Russian) MGK-400 sonar. 
  • Likewise, all four boats of the Shishumar Class have been upgraded with the ATLAS Elektronik’s ISUS-90 combat management system, the CSU-90 cylindrical active/passive bow-mounted sonar, passive planar flank arrays and intercept arrays (for providing warning against approaching torpedoes), passive ranging array, a three-dimensional mine and obstacle avoidance sonar.
  • As part of their SLEP, the Shishumar Class boats Shalki and Shankul are being retrofitted with thin-line towed-array sonars.
  • Electronic Warfare (EW) systems — especially Electronic Support Measures — are crucial to submarines. The upgrade of the originally-fitted ESM suites of all 13 Indian submarines, through their replacement with the indigenously-developed Porpoise EW system, represents a significant enhancement of combat capability.

Optronics. By and large, the Indian media has a suboptimal understanding of the criticality of optronics aboard submarines and, consequently, little interest in periscope-upgrades. This notwithstanding, the fitment of new optronic periscopes onto the Shalki and the Shankul as part of their SLEP is an extremely significant upgrade.

Communications. Within the many criticalities of submarine warfare, communications enjoy a degree of centrality that is underappreciated. The upgrades provided by the retrofitment of the indigenously-developed CCS-Mk2 communications-suite are hugely significant. Where shore-to-submarine VLF communications are concerned, on-board upgrades by way of receiving equipment and Trailing Wire Antennae (TWA) have resulted in noteworthy improvements in combat deployments of all classes of our submarines.

Weapon Upgrades

Missiles. The most telling upgrade to the weapon-suite of Indian Naval SSKs has been the addition of anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and land-attack cruise missiles aboard the Sindhughosh Class. Of the nine boats of this Class, six now have land-attack missile capability by way of ‘Klub-S’ [3M-14Э] missiles, while seven have anti-ship cruise missile capability by way of ‘Klub-3M-54Э. Likewise, the two boats of the Shishumar Class (Shalki and Shankul) that have commenced their SLEP in Mumbai by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) are being retrofitted with 12 x UGM-84L Harpoon Block II Encapsulated Missiles and 10 x UTM-84L Harpoon Encapsulated Training missiles.

Torpedoes. India’s investment in infrastructure for the development and testing of torpedoes notwithstanding, each such program is time-consuming and can take upwards of 15 years. However, the successful induction of the Varunastra heavyweight torpedo aboard the IN’s surface combatants has led to an ongoing development of a submarine-launched version (an upgrade of DRDO’s now-defunct Takshak project). An unfortunate spinoff from the Sindhurakshak tragedy (and that of the Russian Kursk) is a loss of confidence in thermal torpedoes and consequent uncertainties in respect of DRDO’s development of the Shakti thermal heavyweight torpedo, which was expected to be the main armament of India’s nuclear submarines and additionally represented an upgrade-option for the Sindhughosh Class. 

External Situational Awareness. The Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) of all boats has received a significant fillip with the upgraded communication-and-data capability provided by the Navy’s Rukmini satellite, coupled with excellent progress in VLF communication and its remote keying by naval Long-Range Maritime Patrol-cum-ASW aircraft. Moreover, the indigenous Combat-Information Management Systems (CMS) developed by WESEE represents another critical combat-capability and is fitted aboard all boats.

Internal Situation Awareness and Control of the Internal-Environment (Platform-Management-and-Control Systems). The motion-control system of the Sindhughosh Class has been upgraded from the PIRIT-2E to the PIRIT-M. Likewise, the diving-and-surfacing control system has been upgraded from the PALLADI-2E to PALLADI-M. Functionally-corresponding systems are being upgraded as part of the ongoing SLEP of the Shalki and the Shankul.

Safety and Survivability Systems. Critical upgrades in terms of safety and survivability include the installation of the AIDSS (Advanced Indigenous Distress Alert Sonar System) on the nine boats of the Sindhughosh Class submarines, as also the ongoing retrofit of the Shishumar Class boats Shalki and Shankul with the Alenia Sistemi Subacquei’s C-310 submarine-fired torpedo decoy dispensers and a self-noise monitoring system, being part of their SLEP. Seldom recognized but hugely critical nevertheless, are rubber sealants, O-rings, gaskets, etc., that are used to seal the various periscopes and retractable masts that every submarine operates. There have been past incidences of an otherwise fully-operational submarine being rendered unseaworthy for the lack of rubber sealing devices! Consequently, indigenous upgrades under the aegis of the Indian Rubber Board and the Indian Rubber Institute, are far more significant than most media analysts are aware. 


Even as the country awaits — with bated breath — the arrival of the Indian Navy’s Scorpènes, the process of upgrading the combat capability, safety and survivability of our existing sub-surface assets is continuing apace. The truth of the Indian Navy’s subsurface capability lies somewhat removed from the breathless Cassandran prophets of doom that currently crowd our media airwaves. Perhaps this is because of the abiding belief that bad news — even alarmist bad news — sells.  On the other hand, perhaps our countrymen and countrywomen should be considered mature enough to decide for themselves based upon the facts as they are.

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan retired as Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala. He is an alumnus of the prestigious National Defence College.

Featured Image: INS Khanderi gets launched at the Mazagon dock in Mumbai.(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)