New Delhi: Media reports would suggest that the Indian Navy is all set to float an international bid for the acquisition and construction of a second line of conventional submarines for the force. The Navy has already contracted for a set of six French designed (DCN International) Scorpene class hunter-killer submarines.
The likely contenders for the contract would be the Russian shipyards with their fourth generation Amur class submarines or the German HDW shipyard with a new generation of submarines. Both the designs boast of Air Independent propulsion systems (AIPs). Given the fact that India is now a must-be destination for every American defence contractor, observers do not rule out their participation in such a bid either.
Reports also suggest that the Indian Navy is also evaluating aircraft for its maritime reconnaissance fleet. It may be interested in inducting at least eight such aircraft.
According to reports, those being currently evaluated are the ones from Boeing and Airbus, for long-range operations, and from Lockheed-Martin (P3C Orion) and Russia (IL-38D) for short-range operations.
Amongst other acquisitions, the Navy may also be looking at upgrading its ageing fleet of helicopters. Reports suggest that it may be planning to buy as many as 16, with the option of an additional eight, to replace the long-serving Seaking Mk 42s. The Navy may also be looking at acquiring the naval version of the Hawk jet trainers.
AIP or BrahMos?
While reports suggest that the Navy may make the AIP a criterion for the new subs, such a requirement may also put the force into a quandary. AIP technologies allow a submarine to operate without the need to surface, or use a snorkel, to access atmospheric oxygen, thus allowing them to operate for longer periods under water. AIPs can also be retrofitted into existing submarines by inserting an additional hull section.
The problem for the Indian Navy is that the addition of a hull section can be done either to install the AIP system or to install a battery of the vertically launched supersonic cruise missile BrahMos. These conventional submarines may not be able to make space for both. With the AIP the Navy gets a longer stay under water, but with the BrahMos it gets to pack a strategic punch.
The BrahMos has a lot of sophisticated software packed into it, and does not rely on supersonic speed alone to ram home its advantage. On its flight to a target, the BrahMos can nullify a host of electronic countermeasures (ECMs), even as its supersonic speed gives it a deadly edge. This implies that unlike torpedoes, or other anti-ship missiles, one does not require to fire more than one BrahMos at a target, unlike the normal procedure, where two or more or fired so that if one gets intercepte the other can hope to sneak through.
With the BrahMos capable of taking on a target on its own, a salvo of eight BrahMos missiles fired from a sub are capable of taking on an entire aircraft carrier group, a luxury that not many navies in the world can boast of, if any. The Indian Navy can either go for the AIP systems or pack in vertical launching tubes for the BrahMos in the same space. They may not be able to do both.
However, there are also reports that would suggest that the BrahMos could be fired from 650mm torpedo tubes. If so, then space for both the BrahMos and the AIP systems could be made available on the same sub. Maybe, and maybe not – experts would need to comment on this.
Meanwhile, at the Aero India 2007 show the BrahMos Aerospace stall had a model of an Amur class submarine on display, with a section of the hull packing the BrahMos missile tubes neatly presented in transparent glass. Recent reports have quoted Dr A Sivathanu Pillai, CEO & MD BrahMos Aerospace, as saying that the BrahMos missile was looking for a underwater platform for testing, With a couple of Amur's already under construction for quite some time at the Admiralty shipyards in Russia, he may get the chance to fire the projectiles soon enough.