After the Taliban Air Force, time to battle the Taliban Navy

09 Mar 2009


Members of the US Congress have been sniggering for years about the funds being allocated to arm the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) with cutting-edge technology to fight what they refer to as the ''Taliban Air Force.''  Their sarcasm is aimed, in particular, at the number of contracts awarded to upgrade Lockheed Martin's Paki fighter- the F-16, which over the past decade of the Bush administration, has been equipped with the best, and most lethal, in sensors, munitions and equipment.

Of course, it is yet to participate in a single tactical operation against the Taliban, or any other entity.

For long, these funds have been allocated to Pakistan under the guise of helping it fight the Global War on Terror (GWOT). At one point of time questions began to be asked of the Bush administration if the contracts, funds and upgrades of the Paki F-16 were aimed only at shoring up Pakistani capabilities against India.

Now, with the great ''agent of change'' occupying the White House, and the majority Democrats in the Congress in love with everything he wants to do, the time has come for Indian parliamentarians, at least, to take cognizance of the way the Pakistan Navy (PN) intends to take on the ''Taliban Navy.''

Sometime in February this year, the Pakistan Navy was provided the clearance to acquire three types of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sonobuoys - totaling 445 units - under the Foreign Military Sales programme. This piece of anti-submarine warfare equipment is of the same class as contracted for the US Navy.

Indeed, the contract signed with suppliers is a joint contract for the US and the Pakistan Navy.

The sale was cleared, presumably, even as the Obama administration was instructing General Electric not to operationalise two new LM 2500 gas turbines it has contracted to supply the Indian Navy for its state-of-the-art, indigenously designed, Project 17 stealth frigates.

The first of three frigates, INS Shivalik, is ready to commence sea trials but the programme will now have to go on hold – at least for a few months –with the Obama administration reviewing its military relations with a number of countries, including India.

What are sonobuoys? These are devices meant to detect, and identify, submarines as they move about stealthily in shallow or deep waters. Sonobuoys perform this task either in the 'passive' or 'active' mode.  Other specialized ones measure temperature changes in the sea as a submarine passes by. This type is particularly useful in tracking nuclear powered submarines.

In the 'passive' mode the sonobuoy listens for sounds produced by propellers and machinery of a submarine, while in the 'active' mode it bounces a sonar ''ping'' off its body. Being buoys, they float in the water - at least some part of them does.

Apart from these basic versions, sonobuoys have also been designed to detect electric fields, magnetic anomalies, and bio-luminescence (light emitted by microscopic organisms disturbed by a passing submarine). Some also measure environmental parameters like water temperature versus depth, air temperature, barometric pressure, and wave height. 

These are the specalised sonobuoys that are particularly useful in tracking nuclear-powered submarines, some of which India hopes to deploy in the near future –either leased Schucka/Akula class from Russia, or indigenously developed ones. The first of these will heading for the water soon for sea trials.

While passive sonobuoys use a hydrophone to listen for sound energy from a target, active sonobuoys use a transducer to send an acoustic signal and then listen for the return echo off an object.

Sonobuoys are generally dropped from aircraft or helicopters, which are equipped with electronic equipment to receive, and process, data sent by the sonobuoy. They can also be launched from ships.

A pattern of sonobuoys –passive, active and special - can be deployed to determine the exact location, and also, to actively track, and attack, a submerged target.

Threat from the Taliban Navy

What we need to look at is the threat perception of the Pakistan Navy, which, like the Pakistan Air Force, is now being supplied with the latest that the US can offer in the GWOT.

The PN likely faces naval threats from one or all of these sources:

  • The Chinese Navy –Since the Chinese Navy is trying to make its presence felt in the Indian Ocean region, under the guise of fighting pirates in Somalia, it is only fitting that the Obama administration should arm the Pakistan Navy against any likely Chinese threat. It doesn't matter if the Chinese have also funded and built Pakistan's deep water port –Gwadar. It doesn't matter if China is Pakistan's strategic partner of long standing, and a country with which it shares perhaps a deeper strategic relationship than even with the United States.
  • The US Navy – with the Bush, and lately, the Obama administration making it evident that they are quite pissed off with Islamabad because of its non-performance in the GWOT it is likely that at some point of time the Pakistan Navy may want to take on the US Navy. So, it needs to be armed for this eventuality.
  • The Iranian Navy – The Iranians are a threat with their fleet of three Kilo class subs and some indigenously developed midget submarines. We need to keep in mind that never in its 60 years of history has Pakistan ever been threatened, or come under hostile scrutiny, from this Islamic country.
  • Maldives, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia and other littoral entities –not known, if any of these nations are armed with submarines. They don't even have much of a conventional navy, and not likely they would like to waste their time attacking Pakistan, or anybody else for that matter.
  • The Indian Navy – not likely that they are the target of such largesse. We know the friendly relations that the US and India maintain and for long the two countries have been speaking about striking up a strategic partnership. So, the chances that the US is arming the Pakistan Navy with such equipment as a foil to the Indian Navy are not very likely.
  • The Taliban Navy – then, is the only likely hostile source. They have to be looked at with the utmost concern.

Anti-Taliban underwater hardware
Now, on to the menace that the PN faces from the Taliban Navy –which, as the world knows, is armed with a hugely sophisticated Navy. To battle Talibani cadres, who have been known to swim unaided from Karachi to Mumbai- clenching Kalashnikov's in their teeth and carrying Jihadi goodwill in their hearts – the US, very thoughtfully, has decided to arm the PN with the very latest in anti-submarine warfare technology.

It has already contracted for the supply of a large number of maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft.

The contract envisages the sale of 45 AN/SSQ-36B, 50 AN/SSQ-62E and 350 AN/SSQ-53F sonobuoys to the Pakistan Navy – a total of 445 units.

How will these state-of-the-art sonobuoys help neutralise Taliban cadres, even as they comb and trim their beards underwater, and seek to destroy PN assets through deep breathing? 

Let's start with the AN/SSQ-36B Bathythermograph. This is a sonobuoy manufactured for the US Navy and provides vertical temperature profiles of the ocean layer for ASW purposes. So, as a submarine moves into an area its presence affects the temperature of the water around it and the bathythermograph will provide enough data to locate the lurking sub.  

Basic capabilities include a 2625 feet (800 metre) temperature profile and the capability to select one VHF transmitter channel out of 99 available channels.

Thermistors located in the probe measures the changes in seawater temperature during the descent of a submarine from the surface. The data can be processed and displayed as a temperature versus depth comparison, which can be transmitted by radio frequency (RF) to the launch aircraft.

In the case of the Pakistan Navy this means they can hope to track Taliban cadre even as they dive to great depths under the sea to launch an attack on naval assets.

It will also help the PN, particularly, as it keeps track of Indian nuke subs –as, and when, they take to the waters.

The AN/SSQ-36B Bathythermograph can be launched from the air from fixed or rotary-wing aircraft as also from the deck of a vessel.  

AN/SSQ-62E DICASSUnlike the previous class, the AN/SSQ-62E Directional Command Activated Sonobuoy System (DICASS) is the latest version of the active class of sonobuoys. The DICASS is a command activated sonobuoy, which, operating in tandem with a monitoring unit(s) signal processing equipment, can provide active sonar range, bearing, and Doppler information on a submarine.

The DICASS can select depth families - either shallow or deep. If the shallow family is selected, depth settings of 50, 150, or 300 feet are available. If the deep family is selected, depth settings of 90, 400, and 1500 are available. These depth options provide sufficient flexibility for both littoral and open ocean ASW operations.

Good news for everybody - no escape for the Taliban cadre, either in shallow or deep water.

The AN/SSQ-53F Directional Frequency and Ranging (DIFAR) is the latest passive sonobuoy being produced for the US Navy.

The main component of each DIFAR is a directional hydrophone that gives bearings to where the acoustic signal originated. The DIFAR sonobuoy detects acoustic energy from 5 to 2,400 Hz and can operate for up to eight hours at depths of up to 1000 feet.

These sonobuoys have also been used for research to track whale populations and monitor underwater volcanic activity. In the case of the PN it can now track Jihadi war cries as they emanate from the depths of the sea.

The right of a nation to arm itself is a sovereign one and no objections can be taken on that score. What we need to look at is the reason why the US is persisting with its cold war strategy of propping up Pakistan militarily against India.

Business History Videos

History of hovercraft Part 3...

Today I shall talk a bit more about the military plans for ...

By Kiron Kasbekar | Presenter: Kiron Kasbekar

History of hovercraft Part 2...

In this episode of our history of hovercraft, we shall exam...

By Kiron Kasbekar | Presenter: Kiron Kasbekar

History of Hovercraft Part 1...

If you’ve been a James Bond movie fan, you may recall seein...

By Kiron Kasbekar | Presenter: Kiron Kasbekar

History of Trams in India | ...

The video I am presenting to you is based on a script writt...

By Aniket Gupta | Presenter: Sheetal Gaikwad

view more