In the midst of an arms buildup, the Indian navy is preparing to launch its newest corvette optimized for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). This comes at a time when fears in New Delhi over Chinese naval incursions and activity in the Indian Ocean are at an all-time high. Overall New Dehli is spending upwards of $61 billion on expanding the navy by half its current size over the next 12 years. While still lagging behind China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in size, the Indian Navy is making great advances which should ensure its supremacy in the Indian Ocean in the years to come.

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Kamorta-Class ASW Corvettes

Currently INS Kadmatt, the second ship of the Kamorta-class is finishing its final outfitting near Kolkata and will be commissioned in the coming months. Last August, the INS Kamorta, the first of a four ship class was launched from Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The remaining two ships of the class will be commissioned in 2016 and 2017.

Weighing in at 3,500-tonnes, the Kamorta-class or Project 28, is meant to fill the role of ASW corvettes, a role that has not been fulfilled since Soviet-era Petya III-class corvettes were decommissioned in 2003. With 109 crew, the class is capable of speeds up to 30 kt and has an operating range of 1500 nautical miles. Its ASW armament comes in the form of RBU-6000 rocket launchers and twin, 533mm torpedo launchers which can fire the advanced Eurotorp MU 90 Impact lightweight torpedo. This is in addition to its 76mm cannon and close-in weapon systems (CIWS).

Unfortunately, there are several acquisition projects that need to be finished before the Kamorta-class can fully realize its ASW potential. The ASW helicopter the class is supposed to field has been delayed by over four years due to procurement issues. Additionally, the advanced array towed sonar it is to be equipped with has been diverted to use on Indian Navy frigates and destroyers. India is acquiring the technology to construct the system from Germany’s Atlas Elektronik but it will be sometime before it can be fitted to ships of the class.

The Kamorta-class represents a significant leap for India since nearly 90% of it is indigenously sourced; part of a concerted effort on the part of New Delhi to become self-reliant in military hardware. Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley speaking in the wake of the commissioning of the INS Kamorta said, “It’s time we cease to remain the world’s largest buyer of defense equipment and become an important manufacturer”. Regardless of its current problems, the Kamorta-class fills a role that for too long has been neglected in the Indian Navy. More importantly, attention to ASW comes just as China is increasing its submarine activity in the Indian Ocean.

Other ASW Projects

Earlier this month, a significant step was taken in overhauling India’s ageing submarine fleet. The Indian defense firm, Pipavav Defense and Offshore Engineering signed an agreement with the Russian shipyard, Zvyozdochka to overhaul nine submarines of the Sindhughosh-class, a version of the Russian Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine. These are the most modern diesel-electric submarines India possesses but are ageing and are bested in capability by the newest submarines from China. Zvyozdochka has in its history carried out upgrades and refurbishment of more than 120 submarines.

In 2013, a submarine of the class, the INS Sindhurakshak exploded in the Mumbai Naval dockyard and sank. This event which claimed the lives of 18 sailors brought widespread criticism upon the Indian Navy over safety issues. Right now, the Indian Navy is deciding on whether or not to salvage the submarine or turn it into a training vessel for naval divers.

Causes for India’s Naval Buildup

The buildup of the Indian Navy is primarily aimed at preventing China from establishing a solid foothold in the Indian Ocean. PLAN ships have increasingly been making forays into the Indian Ocean and docking in ports of India’s neighbors. This is causing concern in New Delhi where it is feared that China is attempting to increase its influence and presence in the Indian Ocean where India has been the dominant power. Chinese officials have repeatedly denied any hostile intentions though have also said that Indian should not consider the Indian Ocean as its own backyard.

For New Delhi, more unsettling than PLAN warships entering the Indian Ocean, is the presence of PLAN submarines. In May, a PLAN Type 041 submarine for the first time docked in Karachi, Pakistan. China immediately downplayed the event saying that PLAN activities in the Indian Ocean such as this routine port visit are “open and transparent” and that they are not directed at any nation. Last September, a PLAN submarine docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka and several weeks later in November another PLAN submarine along with a warship docked in Sri Lanka. Though these events are recent, India has for some time understood that its ASW capabilities are lacking, thus necessitating the acquisition of the Kamorta-class and other ASW platforms,

Outlook

In acquiring the Kamorta-class and taking steps to upgrade its submarine fleet, the Indian Navy has accepted its own ASW deficiencies and taken steps to rectify them. Unfortunately, the Indian defense establishment is regarded as slow-moving and projects are often repeatedly delayed and this can be seen here. Regardless, the Indian Navy will in a couple of years have the capabilities to check PLAN submarine incursions in the Indian Ocean.

Source: Bloomberg