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The Indian Navy’s Quest for Nuclear-Powered Attack Submarines

The Indian Navy has been eagerly awaiting approval from the government to acquire six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) for almost four years. With the lease of the Russian Akula class submarine ending in 2021, the Indian Navy currently has no SSNs in its fleet. In response, India is in talks with France to collaborate on building these six SSNs.

China, on the other hand, boasts a submarine fleet of over 70 submarines, including nuclear ballistic missile submarines, nuclear attack submarines, and diesel attack submarines. In contrast, most of India’s conventional submarine fleet was acquired in the 1980s and is becoming outdated.

The SSNs are crucial for the Indian Navy to counter the growing power of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). So much so, that the Indian Navy has reportedly halted its project to build an indigenous aircraft carrier in favor of prioritizing the SSN project. SSNs are considered underwater fighter jets with stealth capabilities, unlimited endurance, and the ability to operate far from ports and at high speeds.

Compared to diesel submarines, SSNs have greater reach, endurance, and speed. They can remain submerged for months and are difficult to detect. Additionally, they have the necessary speed to overpower other submarines or warships. SSNs play various roles, including protecting carrier battle groups, hunting enemy ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and engaging in anti-ship, land-attack, and surveillance operations.

While India signed a deal to acquire another nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict may cause delays in its delivery. As for the indigenous SSNs, even if gaining government approval tomorrow, it would still take another 10-15 years before the first SSN becomes combat-ready, meaning the Indian Navy may not have its first homegrown SSN until around 2040.

To support the development of SSNs, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center signed an agreement with the Electronics Corporation of Indian Limited to develop various control systems. Presently, India has two nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines that serve as instruments of nuclear deterrence and cannot be used for tactical missions. SSNs would bridge the gap and counter numerically superior navies by deploying stealthily and shadowing targets while remaining almost invulnerable.

India’s aspiration for SSNs is key since it not only enhances its maritime capabilities but also serves as a deterrent against potential adversaries. Collaboration with France seems the best option considering ongoing partnerships among the US, UK, and Australia through AUKUS for developing nuclear-powered submarines. The Indian Navy’s pursuit of SSNs will strengthen its presence in the Indo-Pacific region and balance China’s expanding influence.

Source : Energy Portal