Indian Navy may be on a warship commissioning spree, but they are actually ‘toothless’. Earlier this week, INS Kiltan-Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) stealth corvettes joined the eastern naval command but without any offensive capability like the Active Towed Array Sonar (ACTAS) system, which is essential to detect enemy submarines.
Also, the Navy is yet to get six low-frequency ACTAS systems from German firm Atlas Elektronik - a contract which was signed in 2014. However, due to a new blacklisting policy, things are moving in the right direction, a naval official confirmed.
“ACTAS is still a distance away. We are hoping for Nagin, a similar system which is under development by the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization),” said an official. The launch of stealth corvettes is with the aim of giving a fillip to India's anti-submarine warfare capabilities, keeping in view China’s dominance in the Indian Ocean Region.
According to naval sources, Indian ships currently use bow mounted sonar or hull mounted sonar, which is less effective.
The towed array sonar, on the other hand, provides observation of the sea space at ranges considerably above 60 kilometres, depending on the propagation conditions of the water. This gives the sonar an operational range that by far exceeds that of radars and the weapons range of submarines, making it not only ideal for hunting submarines but also for the wide-area reconnaissance of surface combatants.
Incidentally, INS Kamorta, another anti-submarine warfare corvette, which was inducted into the Navy in August 2014, is still floating without its striking capability.
The story is similar to the Navy’s submarine fleet as well. Kalveri class (popularly known as Scorpene submarines) was commissioned without the essential weapon of a submarine vis torpedo. But, the Navy desperately requires these torpedoes to be mounted on its already delayed six Scorpene submarines, which are under construction by state-owned Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd in collaboration with French firm DCNS.
A naval official claim that without the heavyweight torpedoes, submarines are almost "toothless." The Navy is waiting for the next Kalveri class submarine—INS Khanderi to be inducted by next month.
It happened because Black Shark torpedoes, multi-purpose weapons designed to be launched from submarines (produced by a subsidiary of Finmeccanica called WASS (Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquei)), was declared winner in 2014 after competitive bidding. But the contract could not be signed, as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government put a ban on signing the contracts in the wake of the probe into the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter scam.
Earlier this year, India had cancelled its contract to buy 98 Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes at an estimated cost of 200 million USD.
According to a navy official, the strength of the Indian Navy's submarines has dwindled from a total of 21 submarines in the 1980s to 13 conventional submarines plus one homemade Arihant-class nuclear submarine and one Russian Akula-class submarine operating on lease. While China, in comparison, has a strength of 65 subs, which "is a matter of concern,"
“What is the point of commissioning warships which are not ‘battle ready,’ questions a senior defence official.