The Right Move

The government’s approval for contracting 24 MH-60Rs will be a big boost to the Indian Navy’s ASW capabilities

Mihir Paul

Amid India’s bureaucratic and arduous process of acquiring defence assets, it seems that the government is finally taking the Indian Navy’s Anti-Submarine-Warfare (ASW) capabilities seriously, with talks about a critical acquisition in the pipeline.

Left to Right: Indian Navy’s Mk42 Sea King helicopter aboard INS Vikrant; An MH-60R anti-submarine multi-role helicopter deploying a sonobuoy

The Indian Navy’s ASW capabilities have come under the spotlight lately, now that the Indo-Pacific region has become a hotbed of naval activity. With our eastern neighbours undergoing a maritime resurgence in the region, enhanced further with their increasing naval strength, submarines et al, ASW has become more relevant than ever consequently.

ASW employs assets like warships, aircraft, helicopters, and submarines to locate, track, identify, and attack enemy submarines. Ranging from warships like the INS Chennai to the Project 28 Kamorta-class corvettes to attack submarines, the Indian Navy has always possessed ASW capable assets in its inventory. With ASW capabilities being a focal point of naval procurements again, the government and the navy have announced their plans of acquiring new assets and upgrading the existing assets to give these capabilities a boost.

While the Indian Navy already has underwater assets and ships to counter enemy submarines, it severely lacks the presence of modern ASW capable multi-role-helicopters (MRH). Having such anti-submarine MRHs is crucial for not only detecting, tracking, and engaging enemy submarines but also for an enhanced maritime awareness. The mobility, range, and flexibility these helicopters offer are unparalleled when compared to other sea-borne ASW assets.

Speaking to FORCE, Commodore Anil Jai Singh (retd) said, “A helicopter’s fundamental advantage over a ship is that it’s highly mobile and can detect submarines at much longer ranges than ships. For this, we presently have the UH-3H Sea Kings and the Kamov 25/28 helicopters. Both are extremely outdated.”

“The biggest gap in our navy’s capabilities is the lack of new ASW MRHs. Our fleet of ASW capable MRHs is practically non-existent,” he added.

For years now, the Indian Navy has been voicing its concerns over the ageing and obsolete Sea King fleet. With less than 10 Sea King helicopters operational, the Indian Navy has been forced to sail its warships without helicopter support. Even the frontline destroyers have been frequently put to sea without integral helicopter support. MRH are critical operational necessities which have been ‘rain-checked’ for well over a decade. Indian warships are practically bereft of such helicopters at a time when Chinese nuclear and diesel-electric submarines are making regular sorties into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

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