INDIA: With Nuke Submarine Launch, India Displays its Growing Military Prowess

  • by Ranjit Devraj (new delhi)
  • Inter Press Service

Predictably, the sharpest reactions came from India’s arch-rival Pakistan which, on Tuesday, officially described the development as a 'threat to regional peace and security' and vowed to 'take appropriate steps to safeguard security, without entering into an arms race.'

Speaking to Dawn News television, Pakistan’s navy spokesman, Captain Abid Majeed Butt, called the launch a 'destabilising step' that would 'jeopardise the security paradigm of the entire Indian Ocean region.'

But, at the launch on Sunday - which made India only the sixth country in the world with its own nuclear-powered submarines - prime minister Manmohan Singh clarified that India had no aggressive designs on any country.

India’s defence minister A K Antony said the nuclear submarine – which, when commissioned into the navy, will be named Arihant or slayer of enemies - was crucial to India’s security as a redible ‘second strike capability’. India has voluntarily committed itself to 'no first use' of nuclear weapons.

Among those who played down the significance of Sunday’s event was C. Uday Bhaskar, a highly respected strategic analyst who said there may be a case for 'over-interpreting' the capability of the submarine, because its reactor was several technological steps away from going critical.

Bhaskar, a retired naval commodore who is currently the director of the National Maritime Foundation told IPS over telephone from the port city of Mumbai that it could take more than three years before the Arihant is actually commissioned into the Indian navy.

The Arihant’s launch for sea trials is part of a long-term programme to build five nuclear submarines indigenously with designs based on the ‘Charlie 1’ class submarine that India leased from its close military ally, the former Soviet Union, in the late 1980s.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 India has sought to diversify its sources of high technology weaponry but this has been hampered by international sanctions imposed on it for carrying out a nuclear test in 1974.

Last year, India signed a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United States that was supposed to mark an end to sanctions, but many believe that India will still have to look to Moscow for such items as nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, rocket engines, and advanced fighters.

'No one else [but Russia] would have helped India acquire something like nuclear submarines,' said Nandan Unnikrishnan, a Russia expert at the independent Observer Research Foundation that is located in the Indian capital.

The Indian military benefited considerably from access to Soviet military equipment from the mid-1960s and through the Cold War years when modern equipment was denied by the U.S. and other Western sources. Perhaps the navy was the largest beneficiary of Russian generosity in terms of technology for nuclear powered submarines.

As a result of its long years of special ties with Moscow, around 70 per cent of major ordnance-delivery platforms and transport and surveillance equipment in the Indian inventories came to be of Soviet origin and Russia continues to be critical for the Indian military.

Unnikrishnan told IPS that while overall sales of defence equipment to India by Russia may be coming down as result of a policy to diversify arms purchases, he sees no 'qualitative decline' in supplies.

U.S. defence contractors, no longer bound by sanctions, have begun offering India’s military advanced fighter jets and are now competing to fill an order for the supply of 126 tactical fighters worth 12 billion dollars floated by New Delhi. Among them are Lockheed Martin, makers of the famed F-16 and Boeing with its F-18 ‘Superhornet’.

In the running are the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, too, with its Typhoon Eurofighter, Sweden’s Saab, makers of the Gripen and the French Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighters.

But no one will be surprised if the Indian air force, the world’s fourth largest, opts for Russian fighters like the MiG 35 because, as Unnikrishnan said, they come with 'no strings attached.'

Bhaskar said India’s plans to build a fleet of nuclear powered submarines could accommodate U.S. companies if they are willing or able to share their technologies, considering that Russian arms are no longer coming with cheap price tags.

'India’s military modernisation plans have been linked to the efficiency and technological quality of the Russian military industrial complex,' said Bhaskar. 'But as Russia now seeks market prices that are closer to that of their western competitors, New Delhi has been unhappy both with hikes in prices as well as laxity in meeting deadlines.'

Earlier this month the navy came under sharp criticism by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India. In its annual report, the latter charged it with buying an aging, second-hand aircraft carrier, the ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ at a price that was more than twice of what a new one could have been acquired for.

'The cost of acquisition [of the Gorshkov] has more than doubled to 1.82 billion dollars in four years. At best, the Indian navy would be acquiring, belatedly, a second-hand ship with a limited life span by paying significantly more than what it would have paid for a new ship,' the accounting watchdog said in its report.

When Russia escalated the price for refitting the Gorshkov, originally ordered in 2004, it kicked up a huge row. According to the CAG report, the ship is now scheduled to be delivered in 2012 and that Russia could fail to stick to even that late date.

'Over the next 30 years India’s defence expenditure could be of the order of three trillion dollars with about 900 million dollars budgeted for modernisation and new inventory acquisition,' said Bhaskar. 'With that kind of leverage, the big strategic question for India is how much it should depend on Russia?'

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service