The New Ghost Fleet of SSBN /SSGN
– Admin BlackAdder & Bhagavan Hindustani
The Indian SSBN programme has been a hallmark project of indigenous triumph ever since its planning phase that began in the 1990s. The induction of the first SSBN of the Arihant Class (INS Arihant) in the year 2016. The SSBN programme of India is pretty interesting as these submarines are extremely flexible in terms of the deployment of missiles.
Most SSBNs have only a single missile specifically built for them. However, the Arihant Class can be retrofitted with either 12 x K15 SLBM (750km range) or 4 x K4 SLBM (3500km range). Improved variants will also carry the K5 (5000km range) and K6 SLBM (6000km range) as well. There are also reports that Brahmos and other sub-launched conventional missiles can also be launched from these silos as well. This concept is very similar to the Russian SSGN that is under development; the Laika Class.
Laika Class SSGNs
Laika class submarines, also called as the husky class fifth generation nuclear ballistic submarines that are currently under development for the Russian navy. The development of these submarines started in 2014 and in 2016. These were named as Husky class. In the same year, the Russian defence ministry and Malakhit, the company which develops these submarines signed a contract. In April 2018, the preliminary hull design was completed and in April 2019, the R&D work of the submarine started. These vessels are to be built by 2027-2030.
In some aspects, this design is similar to the Yasen class submarines. It has traditional cruciform tail with two-part control surfaces and a single integral towed array in the upper rudder. The screw is going to be a typical screwback design. If we take a look at the model, it points towards the conformal sonar array. A large flank running all along the hull. The vessel will also have a double hull design with outer hull made of composite materials.
Laika Class SSGN Specifications
Now, let’s talk about some technical specifications of these vessels.
Armament of this vessel includes the 3M-54 Kalibr and P-800 Oniks anti-ship cruise missiles. This vessel can be equipped with 3M22 Zircon hypersonic cruise missile as well as ballistic missiles with MaRV (manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle) capability which are currently under development. For torpedoes, this vessel carries 6 torpedoes (a combination of Fizik-1 and USET-80 torpedoes, mines) in its 533 mm tubes.
The dual use capability to either launch ballistic missiles or anti-ship missiles from the silos (shared between both the Arihant and Husky Class) is a key idea that India should leverage on in building a nuclear submarine force. Given our limited resources, building large boomers that can carry 12 ballistic missiles is not a feasible idea.
There are few reasons for this. When the initial big boomers were created in the US and Russia, they did not have access to current MaRV technology. The MaRV allows a single missile to target multiple locations with miniature re-entry warheads that can manoeuvre independently. Russia and USA are also vast in size and have numerous major cities. Therefore they would require a large number of ballistic missiles in the event of a nuclear retaliation.
Indian SSBN program
Meanwhile, it is general knowledge that Arihant is the first ever nuclear-powered ballistic submarine that was developed by India which was commissioned in 2016 and cost 4000 crores. Four of these submarines are planned with the second one being named as Arighat. While Arihant and Arighat have a displacement of 6000 tonnes (5900 long tonnes and 6600 short tonnes), the upcoming S4 and S4* reportedly will displace 7000 tonnes.
A far as the armament goes, Arihant and Arighat come equipped with 24 x K15 SLBMs or 8 x K4 SLBMs, 6 x 533 mm torpedo tubes with an estimation of 30 charges and mines. For S4 and S4*, these have 8 missile tubes which can carry up to 8 x K4 missiles and a pressurized water reactor. S4 and S4* are estimated to be commissioned by 2023 and 2025 respectively.
Apart from the S4 and S4*, the Indian Navy is planning to acquire heavy displacement (around 13,500 tonnes) nuclear ballistic submarines in near future. These will come equipped with speculated 190 MW nuclear reactors and are planned to be armed with 12-16 x K6 submarine launched ballistic missiles along with K4 ballistic missiles.
The program first came into light when a photographer captured a glimpse of a scale model of a submarine on the twitter handle of M. Venkaiah Naidu when he posted some photos of his visit to Naval science and technology lab in 2018. So this scaled down model was believed to be the model of the upcoming S5 submarine program. A total of 3 submarines are planned.
Why S5 SSBN should be cancelled
However, this is not the reality that India faces. India’s two neighbours are also its main enemies. While cities in Pakistan are too few to matter, China’s major cities mostly lie within its eastern seaboard. Both require lesser warheads for effective retaliation, unlike the past.
Therefore, India only needs boomers with around 4-6 MIRV based ballistic missiles. This provides numerous advantages. A smaller Laika like design with modular silos that can house either land attack/anti-ship/ballistic missiles offers unprecedented flexibility in mission profiles for these new fleet of SS(B/G)N. These submarines can be built in larger numbers as compared to just 3-4 S5 SSBNs. It will improve the cost efficiency of the programme.
SSGN as suitable alternative to SSBN
The SS(B/G)N are smaller and faster than the larger planned S5. Therefore they do not require SSN protection which takes up most of the effort of the planned 6 x P75A SSNs by the Indian Navy. By being independent platforms, the SSNs can focus on patrolling areas of interest outside the IOR instead of having to provide protection to lumbering S5 boomers. The faster SS(B/G)N can also act as additional SSNs. It could actually be deployed as hunter killers in the event the Indian Navy goes on the offensive. In conclusion, a full-fledged SSBN seems to be nothing more than a white elephant for a Navy that is dealing with budget constraints. A smaller and meaner SS(B/G)N in larger numbers is not only a more realistic option. It is also a solid method of giving the submarine arm of the Indian Navy a quantum jump in capabilities.
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