A powerful surface navy lacks sub punch
Naval warfare experts agree the Indian Navy is capable of obtaining “sea control” – or domination of waters and airspace – in the Arabian Sea in a war with Pakistan. Equally, India can dominate China’s sea lines of communications (SLOCs) through the Indian Ocean, cutting off trade, oil and commodities. This ability stems from India’s aircraft carriers and the proximity to naval and air bases on Indian territory (Indian navy: Strong on aircraft carriers, short of submarines).
Yet a bleaker picture emerges of the navy’s ability for “sea denial” – bottling up enemy shipping in a particular area; or blocking it from moving through a passage; or preventing the enemy from using the seas freely. Submarines are vital for sea denial, lurking unseen, menacing enemy shipping.
India’s fleet of 14 submarines is too small to blockade Pakistani ports and interdicting its SLOCs at the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Aden; while also blocking China’s navy – the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N) – from crossing into the Indian Ocean through the narrow straits that provide access from the South China Sea. These include the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Ombei Wetar.
For all this, India can muster just eight-nine submarines, given the on-going need for maintenance and refit. Submarine availability was further damaged on August 14, 2013, when a Kilo-class vessel, INS Sindhurakshak, blew up in an unexpected blast in Mumbai. Another, INS Sindhukirti, has been in refit since 2006 in Hindustan Shipyard, Visakhapatnam.