Securing the Seas

Submarines are an integral part of a nation’s security apparatus

Cmde Anil Jai Singh (retd)Cmde Anil Jai Singh (retd)

In 1904, the legendary British Admiral Sir Jacky Fisher said, “It is astounding to me, perfectly astounding, how the very best amongst us fail to realise the most impending revolution in naval warfare and naval strategy that the submarine will accomplish”.

Truer words have never been spoken. From being considered pig boats, and submarine warfare being considered ‘underhand, unfair and damned un-English’, submarines now represent a navy’s offensive cutting edge and are the most potent symbol of a nation’s strategic power projection capability.

Ever since David Bushnell’s ‘Turtle’ carried out the first recorded offensive action by a submarine on HMS Eagle in New York harbour on 7 September 1776, submarine development continued unabated throughout the 18th and 19th centuries but it was only in the 20th century that its potential was better understood. Submarines went from strength to strength through two World Wars and a four-decade-long Cold war in which their significant contribution played a major role in shaping not only the course of the conflict but to a lesser extent perhaps, the shape of world history itself.

A model of the Russian Amur 1650 Kilo-class submarine with AIP crosssection

When the Cold War ended in 1991, there was a perception that the role of submarines and anti-submarine warfare will diminish. However, the turn of events over the last two decades has proved otherwise. The increasing transparency in the maritime battlespace has further highlighted the importance of the undersea warfare domain in the contemporary global security architecture.

It is, therefore, inevitable that the relentless march of technology will find expression in submarine development and exploitation to retain its cutting edge across the complete spectrum of conflict across the strategic, operational and tactical domains.

Submarines are of three basic types. The largest and most impressive are the ballistic missile armed nuclear-powered submarines (SSBN) which have the potential to destroy the world several times over. It was this very ability to destroy that kept the peace through the turbulent years of the Cold war. These platforms continue to offer the most potent nuclear capability to the world’s biggest powers. It is no surprise, therefore, that despite major budgetary constraints, SSBN development has continued unabated amongst the Big Five (US, UK, France, Russia and China) as these forms the cornerstone of their strategic deterrence capability. India is the latest entrant to this exclusive club and only the sixth nation to build and operate its own SSBN. For India, SSBN capability is a strategic imperative. Since ‘No First Use’ is the fundamental essence of our nuclear doctrine and reinforces our status as a responsible nuclear power effective, an effective and credible second strike element is essential for which the SSBN is ideally suited.

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