As tensions remain high in the South China Sea between Vietnam and China, Hanoi is reportedly set to receive its first of six advanced submarines from Russia.
Ria Novsti reported that “The first of six Varshavyanka class (Project 636M) diesel-electric submarines will be delivered to Vietnam in 2013 as scheduled.” Commonly referred to as the Kilo-class, the subs reportedly boast “advanced stealth technology, extended combat range and ability to strike land, surface and underwater targets.”
Hanoi placed an order for six of the Russian-made subs back in 2009. According to the report by Ria Novsti, the contract, which also has provisions for the training of Vietnamese submarine crews in Russia, is reportedly valued at US$2 billion.
“The Project 636 Kilo-class submarine has been dubbed the “black hole” by the U.S. Navy for its level of quietness. The Project 636MV-class sub has improved stealth features through the removal of flooding ports and treating the hull with multilayer anechoic rubber tiles. The tiles are fitted on casings and fins to absorb active sonar waves that reduce and distort the return signal. The anechoic tiles also shield sounds from within the submarine thus reducing the range of detection by passive sonar.”
The new subs could also be part of Vietnam’s attempt to develop its own anti-access capabilities. As our own Naval Diplomat, James Holmes, pointed out in a recent article:
“Submarines offer enormous bang for the buck, and they are survivable. Still, this also means that advances in Chinese antisubmarine warfare could nullify Vietnam’s effort to fend off the PLA Navy. Next, Vietnamese access denial could take on an offensive as well as a defensive character. Vietnamese Kilos could, say, loiter unseen off the Chinese naval station at Sanya, on Hainan Island, holding PLA Navy submarines at risk at the delicate moment when they are entering or leaving port—exposing them to enemy action.”
While such a purchase by Vietnam will surely increase its undersea capabilities, it will take years for such subs to come online. All of the vessels crews will need to undergone extensive training and the subs will also need to be thoroughly tested. Also, all six submarines will not all be available for duty at all times, as such vessels are cycled in and out of service for repair and training.