FIGHTING THE INVISIBLE ENEMY
Sangram S Byce
(SLOC’s), makes her geo-strategic environment, predominantly maritime in
million square kilometers. Almost about 65,000 ships transit through these
SLOC’s each year, carrying a wide variety of goods, including strategic oil
supplies. Friendly nations,
therefore, look up to
these sea lanes and to ensure safe, unhindered and free flow of oil and
international trade, through the SLOC’s. Hence, maritime dominance is vital to
and are expected to grow further. She is a net importer of oil. A majority of this, is
sourced from the Middle East,
and passes through the
an important choke point. The energy security implications of this geographical
vulnerability, is one of her serious
concerns. This may drive
her naval presence in the
SLOC’s and preventing a possible energy blockade. It is therefore not surprising,
that in her defense modernisation process,
People’s Liberation Army (Navy).
In the past few years,
the increase in
unprecedented. Countering this rapid and phenomenal growth is an important
challenge for the Indian Navy.
Lack of transparency, makes it difficult to obtain accurate information about
Chinese submarines, particularly with regard to their numbers, class, material,
and state of combat readiness. However, most published sources put the figure
at about 55 Diesel electric submarines and 8 nuclear powered submarines and
more submarines are under acquisition.
NUCLEAR POWERED SUBMARINES:
Jin- Class (Type 094) SSBN – The first boat of this class is perhaps already in
commission and the second, expected to enter service by 2010. A total of about
six boats are planned to be inducted. They carry 16JL-2 nuclear tipped
submarine launched ballistic missiles, with a range of about 6500 nautical miles,
Xia Class (Type 092) SSBN – Only one boat of this Class is in the inventory of
PLA (Navy). It is a derivative of the Han Class SSN. It is armed with 12JL-1
SLBMs having a range of about 1200 nautical miles. It is believed that there
would be no more production of this class. Furthermore, the Xia is being retrofitted
with JL-2 in lieu of the
JL-1. The submarine forms a part of the
Fleet and is home ported at Quingdao
Shang Class (Type 093) SSN- Two boats of this Class are already in
commission. A total of five such submarines are planned to be inducted in quick
succession. More are likely to follow. The Shang is an improvement on the earlier
noisy Han (Type 091) and is a derivative of the Russian Victor III SSN of mid
1970 vintage. Their primary weapon is an advanced anti ship cruise missile and
also a land attack cruise
missile. The Shang Class, SSN gives
‘power projection’ capability.
Source: Military Today.com
Golf Class (Type 031) SSB - is a non nuclear powered experimental platform for
SLBM tests. It is not Combat capable. One boat of this Class is on the PLA
Han Class (Type 091) SSN - These were the first Chinese designed and built
submarines that entered service in the mid 1970’s. Three of these boats are
currently in the inventory of PLA (Navy). They are noisy and their combat
systems are based on obsolete technology. These boats are expected to be
phased out as more Shang Class SSNs enter the service.
DEISEL ELECTRIC SUBMARINES
Advanced Kilo Class (Type 636) SS- Twelve (?) submarines of this class are in
commission. They are armed with wire guided and wake homing torpedoes and
Russian Anti-Ship Cruise Missile ‘KLUB’, probably with land attack capability.
These boats have significantly increased the war fighting capability of Chinese
Kilo Class (Type 877) SS – There are just two boats of this Class. They are less
capable than the Advanced Kilo Class in that they do not carry an anti-ship
Yuan Class (Type 041) SS - These are Chinese designed and built boats
incorporating Russian Technology, including perhaps an air- independent
propulsion system (AIP). There are one or possibly two boats of this Class in the
inventory of the PLA (Navy).
Song Class (Type 039/G/G1) SS - These Chinese designed and built
submarines, are far more advanced than the older “Ming Class”. They are also
believed to be equipped with AIP System and are much quieter when
underwater. They are capable of launching cruise missiles when submerged.
Sixteen boats of this class are expected to enter the PLA (N).
Source: Google Images
Ming Class (Type 035) SS – There are eighteen of these older boats in the
Chinese inventory. The first boat of this Class entered service in 1976.
Production of these boats may have ended in favour of Song or Yuan Class.
Though obsolete in terms of modern submarine designs, they continue to be
useful for defensive patrols.
Romeo Class (Type 033) SS- These are copies of the old Soviet ‘Romeo’ class.
More than 80 boats were built of which about 60 continue to be in service with
perhaps 40 remaining nominally operational. Some limited life extension program
is believed to be on the anvil.
Under the military mordernisation program, it is very evident that
shifted focus to qualitative improvement of the PLA (Navy), particularly its
submarine force. In numbers too, if the present growth rate continues, the
Chinese submarine strength is soon likely to overtake that of US Navy. Though,
the older Ming and Romeo Class boats remain on the inventory of PLA (Navy),
the addition of more advanced boats, have substantially enhanced the Chinese
Navy’s war fighting capability. The older boats nevertheless, continue to provide
capability for defensive patrols, mine laying, intelligence gathering, special
operations, and more importantly being large in numbers, an ability to divert
and stretch Anti-Submarine Warfare ( ASW ) effort of their adversaries.
Hence the older boats also cannot be discounted.
The kind of ASW challenge that Chinese Submarines pose can be gauged from
a reported incident in 2006 when a Chinese Song Class submarine shadowed a
range of US carrier
submarine collided on 11 June 2009, with an underwater sonar array towed by
the destroyer USS John
McCain. The moot question is whether, the
were aware of the presence of these submarines. If the answer to this question is
in the negative, it goes to show a qualitative improvement in the newer Class of
Chinese Submarines over the older ones. It also goes to show that the current
class of Diesel electric submarines on the Chinese inventory are quieter and
stealthier and hence, more difficult to detect. But, more importantly, it shows
Be that as it may, the Chinese submarines are by no means invincible for an
operationally sound ASW force. The material state of PLA (Navy), particularly the
older ones and the state of training of the crew remains a well guarded secret.
The action of the Chinese submarine in the USS John McCain incident was far
from professional. Further, in comparison to the past, Chinese attack submarines
are believed to have considerably increased the number of patrols undertaken by
them. For some inexplicable reason these patrols are too few when compared to
the number of submarines on their inventory. Perhaps, this may be indicative of
low operational ability, poor state of training or both. Moreover, as of now, the
Chinese Navy is heavily dependent on her diesel electric submarines, which
need to periodically snorkel (AIP notwithstanding).
At the present juncture of its modernisation programme, the Chinese submarine
A credible, survivable, sea based strategic deterrent.
Power projection capability.
Sea denial capability
Land attack capability
Anti-submarine warfare capability
Special operations capability
Intelligence gathering and surveillance capability
The Strategic environment
Chinese priority in the
near future will continue to be focused on
and Exclusive Economic Zone. There has also been a discernible improvement,
in India-China relations. But
effort have the potential to lead to serious clash of interest.
Growth of the Chinese Navy has to be viewed in a larger geo-political context.
The long term aim does not appear, to be limited to securing her interests in
indicates a link to her ‘energy strategy’ in the medium term and ‘global
maritime dominance’ in the long term.
As stated earlier,
astride important Sea Lines of
Communications, in the
al Mandab, Strait of Hormuz,
Straits are important to
choke points, however,
virtually lie in
peaceful country, which does not covet the territory of any other country, and is a
staunch supporter of free and unhindered flow of international trade, this
geographical reality, would be
SLOCs and pursuing sea power. Therefore, in the medium term, it is highly
where, she can compete with
Construction of port facility by
step in this direction.
demanding in the years ahead.
Source: Google Maps
Whilst the existence of Chinese Naval capabilities by themselves, may not
presently pose a threat to
be able to counter opposing
capabilities, should the need arise.
have the capability to deter conflict and also to win militarily if forced into a
‘Way Ahead’ for the Indian Navy (IN)
The massive presence of submarines in the region has created a security and
strategic dilemma that calls for a systematic and prioritised development of
Navy’s war fighting capabilities.
modernisation process, whilst
Presently PLA (N)’s concept of operation hinges on ‘sea denial’ and does not
encompass ‘sea control’. This should give
Force Development is not just matching capability for capability. Such an action
could only result in an arms race with disastrous consequences. The force mix
should be such, as to enable exploitation of opponent’s weaknesses, whilst at the
same time, deter it from using its strengths.
Indian Navy’s existing capabilities along with those that are in the pipe line
provide a firm foundation on which to build further in the next 15 to 20 years.
identify, localise and prosecute hostile submarines. A greater thrust would
need to be given to Intelligence gathering and enhanced surveillance. In
order to enable IN units to operate freely in enemy submarine probability areas,
they should also have force protection capability, to evade and decoy hostile
submarines and weapons fired by them.
Anti - submarine warfare (ASW) is perhaps the most challenging and at the same
time the most fascinating form of warfare. A major challenge, faced by ASW
forces is posed by the medium in which the target submarine operates. In sea
water, which is saline & turbid, light and radio energy cannot be used as a means
of detection, since both suffer heavy attenuation. The most efficient form of
energy that can be used underwater for ASW operations is ‘sound energy’. The
vagaries of propagation of sound in sea water and the presence of a large
number of non submarine echoes are a major challenge for both researchers and
practitioners of ASW.
Remarkable advances have been made in both active & passive sonar (device
used for detection of underwater targets) systems. With advanced signal
processing techniques, detection and classification of a submarine by sonar
presence of a large number of non submarine echoes however, still poses a
major challenge. Synergy between technology, tactics and sonar operating
skills is the answer to overcome this shortcoming. Surface ships and
submarines engaged in ASW operations would have to be made stealthier and
the sonar made capable of being operated from high speed platforms.
Since the medium in which the target submarine operates, plays such an
important role, a thorough knowledge of the hydrology of the area of operation is
sine qua non. An atlas containing the parameters that impact on propagation of
sound would have to be drawn up and maintained. The atlas should also
contain details of all non submarine contacts in the area. The process of data
collection being both sensitive and laborious, much of this activity would have to
be undertaken discreetly.
Whilst, low frequency passive sonar based systems have proved dependable
against submarines operating in open oceans, a more complex challenge is from
submarines operating in littoral waters (<200 meters), where ambient noise is
higher. Also, the sonar performance gets degraded in such depths due to
environmental and hydrological conditions. Future R & D emphasis would have
to be on developing technologies to evolve sophisticated systems, which can
extract weak and confusing acoustic signals through advanced processing
algorithms and new architecture. Shallow water performance of ASW torpedoes
and other underwater weapons also need to be improved. The answer perhaps
lies in sonar with wide bandwidth and high gain, operating on much lower
frequencies. Honing of operator skills and adopting electronic decision aids,
including man machine interface would enable better situational awareness in the
context of rapidly changing situations, where the best course of action may not
It may be argued, that shallow waters also degrade a submarine’s sonar
performance. This is true. However, a submarine can optimise the conditions by
operating at most favourable depths or by entering ‘sound channels’. ASW
force can counter this by deploying variable depth sonar/array. A useful tactic
would be to use a submarine in the ‘hunter-killer role’.
In order to optimise available ASW effort and to counter large numbers of
opposing submarines, coordinated ASW operations would have to be
undertaken. The coordinated ASW force should comprise, surface ships,
submarines and aircraft (fixed wing, helicopters and UAVs) both integral and
shore based. Considering the magnitude of the ASW task, the IN would need to
considerably augment its force levels and adopt innovative tactical measures. A
shift from platform centric ASW to network centric ASW would lead to greater
coordination and synergy. This would involve networking of command, control,
communications, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance
(C4ISTAR), for developing a common digital picture of the battle space, thereby
facilitating real time targeting, sensor to shooter links and precision ASW attacks.
Since ‘Information Warfare’, is an important component of
modernisation programme, IN would need to adopt measures, to maintain
complete network security.
The strategic geography
listening arrays, using Low Frequency Analysis and Ranging (LOFAR) technique,
which is a powerful tool for increasing signal to noise ratio. A LOFAR barrier and
long range maritime aircraft can combine to locate, identify, localise and
prosecute a target submarine. This combination is also well suited for strategic
ASW role of destroying SLBM launchers, or destroying a missile immediately
after its launch. For tracking a SSBN in its deployment area, the use of a SSN in
coordination with a LOFAR barrier and a long range maritime aircraft would be
highly desirable. The SSN would then maintain a continuous contact with its
SSNs should also have the capability to launch land attack cruise missiles and
an ability to deploy and recover Special Forces.
To effectively utilize LOFAR technique for hunting submarines using passive
array, it is important to create and maintain a library of target submarine
signatures. These signatures are a unique blend of narrow and broadband
sound at varying levels for each class of submarines and more often for each
individual submarine. Prior knowledge of these signatures is fundamental to
LOFAR strategy and is applicable to all LOFAR devices whether laid on the sea
bed or arrays deployed from surface ships, submarines or sonobuoys.
Submarines are eminently suitable for collecting this data with respect to
opposing submarines. Seabed arrays can also be used for intelligence gathering.
Secrecy of location and capability of an ASW barrier is of paramount importance
for its success.
To operate freely and unhindered in a submarine probability area, ASW forces
would have to be well equipped to detect and neutralise weapons fired by
opposing submarines. For avoiding detection and attack, ASW forces can resort
to dispersal, signature control, cooperative deception, and mobility in addition to
material countermeasures. The IN would need to continually develop new tactical
and material countermeasures that would be effective against modern
submarines and sophisticated weapons fired by them. Both ‘soft kill’ & ‘hard kill’
measures would need to be adopted. Additionally, the units must have protection
against nuclear weapons including EMP hardening.
Chinese submarines have the capability to lay effective minefields. This poses
another challenge for IN forces. Mine Countermeasures (MCM) operations are
laborious and time consuming. There is a need for IN to augment her MCM
capabilities and develop more effective countermeasures against modern mines.
On the other hand, IN must develop offensive mine warfare capability and use
it effectively to frustrate the plans of an attacking force.
As stated earlier, success in war lies in exploiting the weakness of an opponent.
PLA (Navy), in its incremental growth strategy has concentrated mainly on
enhancing its submarine force, leaving capability gaps in many other areas of
maritime operations. The IN would need to develop a balanced force capable of
‘sea control’. In order to exert maritime leverage, the force must have global
reach and flexibility to rapidly forward deploy. The ability to conduct and support
land operations, would
yet been recognised as a nuclear weapon state, this is a geo-political reality and
underpins the strategic decision making of her competitors for power. One of the
most important aims of force development is to deter conflict from a position of
strength and have ability for
acquire a credible, survivable, sea based strategic deterrent capability, which in
addition supports her stated nuclear doctrine of ‘no first use’.
(The author is a former Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command
and is a Fellow of the Australian