SSNs or IAC-2 : A matter of priority
The Indian Navy considers the Indian Ocean region (IOR) as its own backyard. The increasing presence of PLAN has been a concern for India for quite some time. As a lethal deterrence measure, Indian Navy plans for 6 SSNs (nuclear powered submarines) under Project 75 Alpha. The Indian Navy also has plans for a 3rd aircraft carrier called INS Vishal of 65000 T, which will be a force of dominance. The Indian Navy now had to make a call of prioritising one project over the other. Before we move on to see why, let us look at the conception of these projects a bit in detail.
SSNs of Project 75 Alpha
As per media sources, the Indian Navy detected a patrol by a Shang-class (Type 093) submarine in the IOR. This prompted the Indian Navy to reconsider plans of having 6 SSNs, after a bit of lull. The Chinese operate nearly a dozen of nuclear powered submarines. Such submarines can patrol the entire Indo-Pacific without even surfacing once. They can remain undetected in high seas and equatorial waters. When your biggest adversary has capability to maintain stealth against you, the natural objective should be to be on par with them. Developing a capability to lurk in seas being undetected with ability to take down key targets is the deadliest form of deterrence. Therefore the Government of India approved the construction of these 6 SSNs in February 2015.
These submarines will be designed by the Navy’s in-house Directorate of Naval Design and will be indigenously built at the shipping centre in Vishakhapatnam. BARC developed miniaturised Pressurised Water Reactors (PWR) will be the power source for propulsion. The Indian Navy allocated about 14 million USD for the initial phase of the project in 2019. The Directorate of Naval Design successfully completed the preliminary design by February 2020. DRDO will assist the Submarine Design Group of Directorate of Naval Design with the detailed design and construction.
Read latest update about Project 75 Alpha here https://alphadefense.in/the-making-of-the-ghost-submarines-of-india/
Conception of IAC-2
The main idea to have IAC-2 is to have an aircraft carrier capable of operations in consistent with the modern naval warfare. The only contender for the Indian Navy in the IOR is the PLA Navy. With PLA increasing its presence in IOR, it is imperative that the Indian Navy wants a suitable deterrence force multiplier. As of now INS Vikramaditya is the sole aircraft carrier patrolling the IOR with its base at Karwar. INS Vikrant will be commissioned by the end of 2021 or 2022. INS Vikrant will then be based at Kattupalli near Chennai for 8 years until the naval base at Rambilli is ready. Thus INS Vikramaditya will be patrolling Arabian Sea along with parts of IOR. Whereas INS Vikrant will patrol the Bay of Bengal + parts of IOR.
Only two-thirds of numbers of aircraft carrier will be actively available during the mid course of a war which is the worst case geopolitical scenario. Under such a case, the Indian Navy would need two aircraft carriers to be actively operational on either coasts while one of them undergoes maintenance. The strategic location of Andaman and Nicobar islands naturally facilitates as a stationary aircraft carrier. This will help to take care of Malacca strait with added number of submarines in Indian Navy fleet. But that also requires an aircraft carrier to provide air support.
Watch about the latest update of IAC-2 here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn3jXN5RJa0
Peace time scenario
During peace time sceanrios, a third aircraft carrier can be sent deep into IOR. The development of naval and air base at Agalega island can serve as a berthing point for the Indian Navy, thereby controlling Indian interests in the African subcontinent and the IOR. This also is evident from the formation of QUAD and recent statements from Defence Minister Rajnath Singh during the visit by US Secretary of Defence LLoyd Austin. Those statements indicated Indian collaboration with the African command.
Which takes priority? SSNs or IAC-2?
As we can see SSNs are meant to be a deterrence measure against PLA Navy which is the current need of the hour. This is evident from the fact that China has developed the capacity to produce 12000 T Renhai class destroyers within 5 years. A good fleet of SSNs at Malacca strait would serve as deterrence and choke the Chinese trade. This will force the PLA Navy from any misadventure despite their huge naval assets. The IAC-2 is more like an aggressive force multiplier but we must not forget that an aircraft carrier is also a huge target for the adversaries. Aircraft carriers are a costly asset whose development and funding happens over a decade. India’s capability in developing SSNs has improved significantly. Hence it naturally makes sense to develop the deterrence capability before moving on to an aggressive posturing.
The Indian defence budget as we all know has not increased much. Much of it goes into payrolls with not much available for capital expenditure. The Indian Navy is very ambitious and has a lot of projects in its pipeline. Careful prioritzation when funding is a constraint is critical. SSNs offer the Indian Navy an asset with distributed lethality. Not to undermine the importance of IAC-2, but strengthening defences in this decade take precedence over assets that are meant for facilitating expansion.
Here is our video highlighting the importance of both systems https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rejc2yz8e_I
So the Indian Navy recently informed the Government of India of it’s decision to prioritise the SSNs over the IAC-2. The Indian Navy will seek “Acceptance of Necessity (AON)” from the government on this matter. Indian Navy’s decision is a very correct one considering the current situation in the Indo-Pacific.
Read in depth about how India can pursue both simultaneously at https://alphadefense.in/submarine-versus-aircraft-carrier-why-not-both/ and https://alphadefense.in/ins-vishal-or-more-submarine-whats-best-for-indian-navy-the-way-forward/
India has a number of options to jointly design and develop the submarines with Russia, France and the US. However India’s preferred partner could be France as it has already designed Kalvari class SSKs for the Indian Navy. Joint development of submarines with France is free from any regulatory regimes. These include the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) with the US or any future sanctions in case of Russia.
India already operates one Akula class SSN from Russia on lease with an agreement to get another one when the lease on the first expires. The Indian nuclear submarine fleet will rise in numbers over this decade beginning with the commissioning of SSBN INS Arighat this year. This will be followed by 2 more Arihant class submarines, Project 75 Alpha and S5 class. In addition to this the Project 75I which will have diesel electric and AIP will also be procured.