Wednesday, 5 October, 2022
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INS Arihant is welcome, but India is far short of Chinese nuclear submarine capability

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China is also providing support to the Pakistani Navy, including offering to build submarines. India is keeping a close eye on these developments.

New Delhi: India’s announcement of a maritime nuclear strike capability Monday comes in the midst of increasing submarine activity in its neighbourhood.

The INS Arihant, nuclear-powered and able to launch nuclear missiles, has just returned from its first deterrence patrol — a Cold War-era practice where nuclear-armed submarines are deployed in waters from where they can fire on the adversary if attacked.

Since the Chinese deployment of a nuclear submarine in 2013 for so-called ‘anti-piracy missions’ off the east coast of Africa, there has been a firming of belief in New Delhi that development of the ‘nuclear triad’ — a stated policy for more than 30 years — must be treated with urgency.

Like India, China also professes a ‘no first strike’ policy in its nuclear doctrine. It believes that its maritime capability to launch nuclear weapons complements its variants of land-based road and rail-launched strategic missiles.

Also read: What is the nuclear triad that INS Arihant has helped India complete?

Chinese and Pakistani capability

Despite Monday’s announcement, Indian naval capabilities fall short of Chinese asset-building in terms of numbers. Yet, China’s vulnerability is that most of its energy (oil) supplies have to traverse busy sea lanes of communication close to India from West Asia and Africa.

India is also keeping a close eye on China’s support to the Pakistan Navy. There are reports that China has offered to build eight submarines, in addition to assisting in the naval facility at Gwadar, and the activity over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Pakistan Navy is estimated to have about 10 submarines, of which five French-origin Agosta 90B class (Khalid class) conventional boats are assessed by Indian Navy sources to be fully operational.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is estimated to have four Jin-class SSBNs (ballistic missile submarines) plus nine SSNs (nuclear-powered submarines).

It is estimated to be maintaining a fleet of 40-plus diesel-electric submarines. However, it is beset with maintenance issues and many of the boats have to be docked months for overhauls, according to a think-tank study.

India has 14 conventional submarines, half-a-dozen of which are now going through upgrades of different kinds. Plus, it has the INS Chakra SSN on a 10-year lease from Russia, and now the Arihant. At least two more of the Arihant class are in the works.

But India’s progress on long-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) is a secret, with little or no information put out officially. A variant of the Sagarika missile that arms the Arihant is estimated to have a range of 750 km. The Chinese JL-2 missiles that arm its Jin-class SSBNs are said to have a range upwards of 4,000 miles (over 6,400 kms).

In addition, India is building a new base on the east coast, called Project Varsha, which will harbour its strategic boats in pens in a hillside about 50 km south of the Eastern Naval Command headquarters in Visakhapatnam.

Also read: From ground, air and sea, now India can fire nuclear missiles from anywhere

Far short of traditional powers

In terms of sheer numbers, the Asian powers are far behind the US in sustaining a large fleet of submarines — both ‘boomers’ (as SSBNs are called) and SSNs.

The US is estimated to be maintaining 14 ‘boomers’, Russia 12, and the UK and France four each. Different estimates put China’s number of SSBNs between four and seven.

All navies maintain a shroud of secrecy on their submarine fleet, especially around the nuclear boats. The numbers are approximate and collated from different studies by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre on Global Policy and the Federation of American Scientists.

In addition, the US is estimated to have 60-odd SSNs, Russia 33 and the UK 11.

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  1. Not sure which kind of idiot comes up with such articles. India is not China hence it is stupid to compare ourselves with China in terms of capabilities. When we try to get even with countries that are bigger and ahead of us, we end up like Pakistan. Look at those idiots who still try to match up with India despite losing all its wars and half it’s country. Even China will go down the drain like soviets if they try to match the Americans.

  2. There is nothing to fear from Chinese submarine power including the nuclear submarine. Only our media while searching for headlines is afraid of them.

    First, these Chinese submarines are based on copied and stolen technology hence their quality is very low. These breakdown often. Moreover Chinese are afraid of deep sea hence they keep their subs and aircraft carrier near or about the coast.

    Second, making a 4000km journey to Indian Ocean thru two constriction points on way is an uphill task, peace time goodwill visits excepted.

    Third, when half of their force is stuck at sea (breakdowns) and the remaining half faces a well trained Indian Navy with home port advantage then there is no match. The home port navy wins, hands down. Remember that a very overconfident CZar of Russia in 1905 sent his Baltic naval fleet to beat up the Japanese thousands of miles away, the fleet was sunk by the Japanese with in three hours after its arrival in Japanese Sea. That is called home port advantage.

    Fourth, India is not going to confront Chinese in South China Sea, that is not India’s intent. It is the over confident Chinese who are coming to the Indian Ocean.

    Fifth, loss of face will be a disaster to the Chinese, from which they will never recover.

    Story over…….

  3. Sujan Dutta – How come you’re so worried? What pushed you to write this article. I’m pretty sure other than criticizing you cannot in any manner contribute positively towards India’s cause. So stay away from matters concerning India. Biased article…

  4. Don’t worry our country India won’t attack on your country. We have a ‘No first use’ policy. So you don’t need to have the compulsion of celebrating this..

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