Can France be a potential partner in the nuclear attack submarine project proposed by India? Aaccording to reliable sources, France has an advantage over the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia by reaching an agreement for the joint development of six submarines for the Indian Navy.
India’s Chief of Defense Staff General Bipan Rawat and Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh may have disputes over India having a third aircraft carrier (the first is not sure of its usefulness given its cost but the second is determined to acquire it), but their voice is one in strengthening the Indian Navy’s very small submarine fleet.
The government’s concern for handling Covid may have delayed the final decision, but the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is ready to give the green light to the submarine project, particularly when the Indo -Pacific has become an important strategic border, with China expanding and consolidating its naval presence in the region.
If all goes well, France appears to have an advantage over the US, UK and Russia to strike a deal for the joint development of six submarines (SSNs) for the Indian Navy, reliable sources say. .
Some clear indications would have been to this effect, but the postponement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France which was scheduled for the beginning of the month (May) may have delayed the same.
Modi was to visit the French SSN base in Toulon and the French SSBN base (strategic submarines armed with nuclear ballistic missiles) in Brest.
Why India wants to strengthen its submarine fleet
Submarines are vital to the Indian Navy’s “Denial of the Seas strategy”. Like the navy Maritime security strategy the 2015 this: «The Indian navy will exercise denial of the sea as an offensive measure, to reduce the adversary’s freedom of action and degrade its operations. It will be exercised by appropriate methods to prevent the adversary’s units from operating in the designated maritime space, so as to thwart their objective of deployment.
« To this end, the Indian Navy will primarily employ submarines, which are ideally suited for performing denial of the sea, in areas through which opposing forces may seek to cross, including port approaches, SLOC convergence zones. (Sea Lanes of Communication), and also middle of the ocean. »
It is an open secret that if Beijing is developing the port of Gwadar in Balochistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project to develop an alternative route to mainland China, because it believes a fleet of sub -Indian navies could inflict considerable damage on Chinese ships crossing the Strait of Malacca.
Submarines are also an integral part of sea-based nuclear deterrence that ensures the survivability of nuclear weapons, enabling states to inflict assured destruction on their adversary. In fact, countries like France and the UK don’t even have land-based nuclear deterrence and mostly rely on nuclear deterrence at sea via SSBNs.
Given India’s naval responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific, its fleet of submarines is very small – an SSN (ISN Arihant), an SSN (INS Chakra II, leased to Russia and returned next year ) and 14 diesel-electric attack submarines (SSK). Second native SSBN of India INS Arighat expected to join the Indian Navy this year
India has already signed a $ 3 billion (Rs 21,000 crore) deal in 2019 with Russia to lease another Akula-class nuclear submarine for 10 years. Renamed Chakra-III, it will be delivered to the Indian Navy by 2025.
Obviously, the South Asian nation needs more SSNs and this explains the urgency of a final nod on the joint production of six SSNs, three of which would be in priority. Each of them would cost around 15,000 crore rupees.
The emphasis on nuclear powered submarines is that they operate at high speed for long periods of time with unlimited range. Diesel submarines run on electric batteries and can only stay submerged for a few days at low speed, or a few hours at maximum speed.
India-France Defense Links
The French Naval Group is the first candidate for the SSN project because France benefits from two advantages. First, India is building six new Scorpene-class ships in the state-owned Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL) in Mumbai in partnership with Naval Group.
The first of these submarines, INS Kalvari, was put into service at the end of 2017. INS Khanderi (S22) was put into service in September 2019. INS Karanj (S23), INS Vela ( S24) and INS Vagir (S25) have been launched and are currently undergoing sea trials. The remaining vessel, INS Vagsheer is under construction. Thus, India has acquired professional experience in the joint production of naval platforms with France in its country.
Second, France has been one of India’s most trusted allies since India was sanctioned for nuclear testing in 1998. Unlike the United States or other European countries, France has never used against India’s regulatory regime that can block an ongoing program by citing some national or international regulations, which has played a huge role in India, preferring Rafale fighter jets to the Eurofighter, F-16, and F- 18.
However, when it comes to SNLE, given its strategic nature, it should only be produced locally. According to India’s Maritime Strategy, “the SSBN by virtue of the stealth characteristics allowing for discreet and prolonged deployment and combat capabilities, including weapons, provides a credible, effective and survivable capability, and contributes to the assurance of punitive reprisals in accordance with our nuclear doctrine ”.
SSBNs also “thwart an opponent’s strategy of seeking an advantage in nuclear posture and escalation.”
The Indian SNLE fleet
Arihant’s experiment must have been fruitful for the makers of Arighat in avoiding certain shortcomings associated with the native SSBN of India. It was reported that in 2018 the Arihant’s propulsion compartment was damaged by water that entered after a hatch in the rear was left open while it was moored and in 2014, before its commissioning, a worker was killed during pressure tests on the hull.
INS Arighat is believed to have a more powerful reactor than INS Arihant and will be able to move 1000 tonnes more load than Arihant. It is supposed to carry more missiles (four) than the Arihant (one).
Not much is known about the Indian SSBN missiles (SLBMs) that are being developed by the DRDO. Although the K15 Sagarika intermediate-range nuclear-capable missile (range 750 km) was launched from underwater platforms, it is not clear whether it is a submarine. But it is safe to guess that future SSBNs (apart from Arighat, India is building three others, dubbed S-2, S-3 and S-4 at the Vadodara shipyard) will have an intermediate K-4 (3,500 km) and a long range. K-5 missiles (6000 km).
Another intercontinental range SLBM developed by the DRDO is the K-6 which is believed to provide the SSBN with better strike capability and allow it to stay clear of enemy shores. The K-6 would carry several independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) that would allow the SLBM not to be intercepted.
India is also reportedly building what would be its secret submarine base on the east coast at Rambilli, located 60 km from Vishakhapatnam, the seat of the Eastern Naval Command. Called INS Varsha, it would provide nuclear ships with recharging stations and technical support areas for future nuclear powered ships.
It is said that INS Varsha would be able to withstand even nuclear attacks.
Additionally, underground bases are important, as when submarines leave or return to normal ports, these can be easily detected by enemy spy satellites, compromising their class and number confidentiality.
This, in turn, will give the enemy an idea of the defense preparations that are being undertaken. This is where underground naval bases become crucial. Knowing that the enemy cannot destroy the most important element of India’s nuclear triad and that it would face massive retaliation is a very powerful deterrent.
INS Varsha is believed to be a response to China’s underground nuclear submarine base at Yalong, at the southern end of Hainan Island, which station Shang-class SSNs and Jin-class SSNs.
China is believed to have built six such bases on its eastern coast, and more than 60 Chinese submarines have operated there.