Military & Aerospace

On the way to the modernisation of Indian naval power
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 29 Feb , 2024

India is determined to modernise its navy to meet the security demands of a vast coastline and the crucial Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Submarine-launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) is to be test-fired in March as part of the modernisation programme of the Indian navy.

Primarily, India’s maritime security is focused on China and Pakistan. Both are not only unfriendly but also unpredictable neighbours. Taking into account how fast both adversaries are expanding and upgrading their naval capability, India has to keep abreast with such preparedness as can match the dual attack in a conflict situation. India has to focus on strategic deterrence vis-a-vis Pakistan and at the same time has to counter the rising competition with China in the IOR.

India has to focus on strategic deterrence vis-a-vis Pakistan and at the same time has to counter the rising competition with China in the IOR.

In a June 2022 article, Missile Threat reported that India’s missile arsenal supports its nuclear deterrent against Pakistan and China. Both countries have been advancing their respective missile delivery systems. That indirectly prompts New Delhi to upgrade its missile delivery system.

India’s nuclear posture is aimed at strategic-level second-strike capability but SLCMs give India a sea-based delivery system for tactical nuclear weapons. Missile Threat reported in January 2017 that Pakistan test-fired the Babur SLCM from a mobile underwater platform at an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. Missile Threat says the Babur SLCM has a 450-kilometer range, underwater-controlled propulsion and advanced guidance and navigation.Though some Indian news outlets tried to debunk Pakistan’s 2017 Babur SLCM test, citing conflicting satellite imagery of the landscape as evidence, be whatever it is, India cannot let down the guard and overlook the reports brought to her.

SLCM’s features

Developed bythe DRD, the SLCM with a 500-kilometre range will be fired in the coming March after fitting it on indigenously manufactured conventional submarines (SSK) planned by the Indian Navy under Project 75 India. This project also known as the Kalvari-class SSK, is a French-designed Scorpene SSK of which India has five and plans to have nine in service.

Missile Threat reports that India’s indigenous SLCM has two variants: the Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) and the Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM). In-flight wing deployment and in-flight engine start are its other specialities.

India already has almost a similarground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) named Nirbhay with 450–kilogram payload and an 800-1,000-kilometre range. It is launched from a land-based mobile launcher and can carry unitary or cluster high explosive warheads or a 12–kiloton nuclear warhead. An inertial navigation system (INS)/GPS receiver guides the Nirbhay. India has also tested an SLCM of its Brahmos supersonic cruise missile.

In a situation of conflict with China, India has the option to use SLCMs in an opening salvo targeting rear facilities such as command and control posts, logistics hubs, airfields and communication nodes.

Way back in 2013, it was reported that the Brahmos SLCM was successfully launched from a submerged platform in the Bay of Bengal offshore Visakhapatnam. The Times of India noted in a November 2023 article that the subsonic Nirbhay would complement to supersonic Brahmos, providing commanders with more options during a potential conflict.

India’s missile arsenal

The Brahmos missile has the capability of striking from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or on land with pinpoint accuracy, day or night and in all weather conditions. India’s effort is to establish a dedicated rocket force encompassing GLCMs, SLCMs and short/medium-range ballistic missiles. What is to be noted in particular is that SLCMs would also add a survivable sea-based element to augment India’s land-based rocket force. Asia Times reported in December 2022 that India was building a rocket force around the Pralay tactical SRBM, with 120 slated to be deployed in underground facilities in its border states with China.

In a situation of conflict with China, India has the option to use SLCMs in an opening salvo targeting rear facilities such as command and control posts, logistics hubs, airfields and communication nodes. In the second onslaught against the adversary, India could destroy air defences, artillery pieces, missile bases and tank formations, with rocket and gun artillery attacks finishing off troops in forward-deployed positions.

Missile Threat noted in a June 2022 article that “India’s conventional missile arsenal supports its nuclear deterrent against Pakistan and China. India had to respond to recent advances in missile delivery systems of the adversaries and hence she decided to diversify the delivery system.

What India will achieve after the successful launch of the SLCM in March is that it will give India a sea-based delivery system for tactical nuclear weapons.

Post-launching of SLCMs

What is India expected to do further in her modernisation programme after the successful test firing of the SLCM next month? Successful launching will significantly bolster India’s naval deterrence and power projection capabilities. Armed with SLCM, Kalvari SSK could complement the nuclear-powered Arihant ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) in their role as India’s sea-based nuclear deterrent. 

The Naval News of October 2022 published an article which noted that the K-15 SLBM can deliver a 1,000-kilogram warhead up to 740 kilometres, with theArihantcarrying12 missiles. However, the report said that K-15 may be an interim solution, with the upcoming K-4 having a range of 3,500 kilometres.

What India will achieve after the successful launch of the SLCM in March is that it will give India a sea-based delivery system for tactical nuclear weapons.

India’s prowess in the naval sphere of underwater launched missiles is well enunciated in an article on the subject authored by Gabriel Honrada and published in the Asia Times on February 17, 2024. He says,” India’s imminent tests of a submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) marks a significant step in its naval modernization, strategic deterrence vis-a-vis Pakistan and rising competition with China in the Indian Ocean. The pre-announced test, however, could serve to cool bubbling tensions with Pakistan.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

KN Pandita

Former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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