The Indian Navy has informed the government of its requirement to build six nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) to counter challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, the new strategic frontier, which has received recognition by the Quad, European Union and the United Kingdom.
Following the Combined Commanders Conference on March 4 in Kevadia, Gujarat, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh had stated the need for SSNs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 3 during a discussion about the Indian Navy’s operation Samudra Setu II, which is aimed at obtaining much-needed oxygen from India’s near allies in West Asia.
Naval warships also assist island territories of Lakshwadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar with medical assistance. The nuclear-powered attack submarines would provide the Indian Navy with the long legs it needs for deterrence patrols and access denial in the Indo-Pacific without giving away its position. “The future not only lies in the Indo-Pacific but also the arctic route that will open up due to receding snow fields," the Hindustan Times quoted a serving admiral.
The SSNs only need to surface for food and other logistics, and they can conduct long-range patrols while carrying conventional weapons and missiles. India currently has one Russian-leased Akula class SSN and one indigenously built ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), with another joining the strategic forces command next year.
Although the Navy is still seeking acceptance for necessity from the Union Ministry of Defence, national security planners are concerned about China adding 12 SSNs to its fleet in and seven ballistic missile submarines to its strike force.
The French SSNs base at Toulon and the French SSBN base at Brest were on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda during his now-cancelled visit to France around the May 8 India-EU summit in Lisbon. The physical bilateral visit to France has been postponed while the India-EU summit has been reduced to a virtual summit.
The national security planners have been considering France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia as potential partners for joint development of SSNs in India. The French Naval Group is one of the leading contenders for the SSN initiative, as France has been one of India’s most reliable allies since the nuclear test sanctions in 1998. It does not have any regulatory regime, like the United States, that could halt the ongoing programme by enforcing international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR).
France has also offered to develop the SSN jointly with India, along with complete technology transfer. Currently, it is building six diesel attack submarines for India (the Kalvari class), which will be retrofitted with air independent propulsion technology developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO).