Thursday, March 21, 2013

SSGN - A logical next frontier for Indian Navy

SSGN - a nuclear submarine capable of launching guided cruise missiles, have got a role that is entirely different than SSNs and SSBNs. We seldom hear about them and their role from main stream media, while there is always plenty of focus on SSNs/SSBNs. Apart from US and Russian Federation, no other navy has got a dedicated fleet of SSGNs. There are some navies which have got multi-role boats that can be put into a category of SSN-SSGN combined, but then those are more of hybrid and less of pure SSGNs, further their major role also tilts more towards SSN. 

SSGN is one of the extremely critical tactical asset of 21st century, it can strike fear in the heart of an enemy, even without involving any nuclear angle into the power projection. By virtue, this submarine has got stealth on its side; by technology (nuclear propulsion) it has got sustenance on its side, for fire-power it is bristling with long-range guided cruise missiles in its belly.

US has used its SSGNs in all the recent wars it got involved into, to soften the targets; enemy could barely see what has hit them, the fiery tomahawks raining from night skies and annihilating them. These tomahawks came from thousands of miles away, fired by an SSGN stationed somewhere in the distant ocean.

Voronezh, an Oscar Class SSGN after its overhaul ( Image Courtesy - )

If things go as planned, Indian Navy would have SSBNs in its fleet by year-end, and one more Akula class SSN (Iribis) too. May be, this is the time to look forward to acquire some SSGN capability, a fleet of SSGNs patrolling Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea will be enough to deter an agressor from getting adventurous with any malafide intentions.

However, India Navy has got its hand full with development of SSBN capability in the form of Arihant Class submarine, a follow-on project for SSNs is also in progress. Therefore, developing a SSGN capability would take considerable time to get kick-started as an indigenous project. But if we can take a leaf out of approach that was followed with INS Chakra; building the SSN capability rapidly, and then having an indigenous project in parallel; it would be a good start to build an SSGN capability as well.  

Russian Federation has around six Oscar Class SSGNs in reserve. There are three which are waiting on a refit, and the remaining three are in advanced stages of construction, when further development was halted due to financial constraints and also because Russia Navy is right now more focused towards faster completion of Borei Class SSBNs and are looking to put them in active service as soon as possible.

Oscar Class SSGNS -
  • K-173 Krasnoyarsk - waiting for overhaul
  • K-132 Irkutsk - waiting for overhaul
  • K-442 Chelyabinsk - waiting for overhaul
  • K-139 Belgorod - construction halted
  • K-135 Volgograd - construction halted
  • K-165 Barnaul - construction halted
India could exercise the same lease option to acquire few of these boats, induct them quickly into its navy, get familiarised with their operations and capabilities, and simultaneously kick start a parallel project to develop indigenous capability. There will be people criticizing this approach, claiming it to be counter-productive to development of indigenous capabilities, but these are strategic decisions which need to be taken in context of the whole spectrum of threats, we live in. It is critical that we look to acquire strategic defensive capabilities as fast as we can, we should definitely continue to develop indigenous programs to achieve self-reliance in defence, but we need to balance out these two approaches and keep in mind that end-goal is to keep our nation safe from all external threats, at all times.

We need to be vigilant of the fact that our adversaries are acquiring offensive capabilities, that too at a much faster pace than us.

An Active Defence Original

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