The Indian Navy’s biggest operational gap is its dwindling number of submarines. Moreover, all existing submarines lack the technology know-how to adjust their roles and missions to changing times: from operating alone to contributing to the land battle. Considering that the lifespan of a conventional submarine is 25 years, by 2010, most of the kilo class submarines should be de-commissioned, bringing the strength, unless reinforced well in time, to a total of five submarines. The first kilo class submarine, Sindhughosh was commissioned in April 1986 and the last one, Sindhushastra in Jul 2000. In addition to the 10 kilos, the navy has four conventional (SSK), HDW-T1500 class submarines. Two Foxtrot class submarines of the Sixties vintage, which are counted in the inventory, need to be de-commissioned soonest. Therefore, the operational need is both to induct new submarines, and to introduce technologies, which would enlarge the existing option of employing submarines as ‘lone wolves’ to their full integration with the overall tactical picture. Observers believe that the singular ability of submarines to remain stealthy makes them the true capital ships of the 21st century. For this reason alone, over 700 submarines are deployed around the world with navies of more than 40 countries.
Closer home, all Asian nations, especially China and Pakistan, have invested heavily in their submarines.
India must make use of the growing relevance of conventional submarines, which is leading to breathtaking technologies to fulfil its new tasks. Even as nuclear-powered submarines will continue to play a vital role in ‘power projection’ operations by delivering ballistic/cruise missiles against coastal and in-depth targets, the diesel-electric submarines are sought to be employed on a variety of missions to meet the evolving operational requirements. During the Cold War, the conventional submarine operations were limited to Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), with little co-operation between the conventional submarines and other naval assets. With littoral warfare assuming importance over deep sea warfare, as evident from the post 9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the mission profile of conventional submarines the world over has changed drastically with primacy of operations shifting to Intelligence gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), mine-laying, support to Special Operations, and importantly to eventually become part of the emerging operational concept called Network Centric Warfare (NCW). (Littoral warfare refers to coastal and shallow areas, and its precise NATO definition is ‘a coastal region consisting of the seaward area from the open sea to the shore that must be controlled to support operations ashore, and the area inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from sea’). This has resulted in the worldwide-renewed focus on conventional submarines, which started in the Nineties, a development of great importance for the Indian Navy.