Ajay Banerjee, The Tribune
6 May 2015
The Navy has asked the government to allow a fleet of six nuclear-powered submarines and is also looking at nuclear power as an option for the next sea-borne aircraft carrier, which will be the follow-on to the INS Vikrant currently being built in Kochi.
“We have proposed to the government that in lieu of the conventional submarines we would like to have more nuclear-powered submarines,” Navy Chief Admiral Robin Dhowan told The Tribune today. The decision is pending at the level of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the Admiral said, adding that the number of nuclear-powered submarines sought was six.
The Admiral was referring to the existing submarine plan announced in 1999 which had spoken of having 24 conventional submarines by 2030. It is out of these 24 subs that the Navy wants six to be nuclear powered. At present, India operates 13 conventional vessels and a nuclear submarine, INS Chakra, leased from Russia, while the indigenous nuclear-powered INS Arihant is undergoing sea trials.
The Indian fleet is grossly inadequate to match China. The annual report to the Congress in the US, titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2014”, says: “PLA Navy (PLAN) has more than 60 submarines (and) places a high priority on modernisation of its submarine force.”
On the submarine fleet, Admiral Dhowan listed out a multi-pronged plan. First is to ensure timelines are met in the ongoing construction of the six scorpene subs with the first one planned for commissioning next year; second is according “top priority” to the second lot of six such vessels and third is to carry out a refit to extend the life of existing vessels.
About the next sea-borne aircraft carrier, Admiral Dhowan said: “All options are open for the second indigenous aircraft carrier. Nothing has been ruled out. It could be nuclear powered or conventionally powered.”
The Navy, he said, was looking to having three sea-borne carriers in its fleet. “The first indigenous carrier, INS Vikrant, will be inducted by 2018 and now we can plan easily as we can now build such ships on our own,” he said.