The Indian Navy is reportedly looking to upgrade its submarines with advanced sonar and torpedoes in the near future. According to The New Indian Express, the navy "has chosen the German firm Atlas Elektronik to help it upgrade the heavyweight torpedoes, the most reliable weapons that can hit surface and underwater targets (SUT), for the four HDW Type 209 Shishumar class submarines, also of German origin.”
Atlas Elektronik is also one of the firms likely to win a contract to supply the Indian Navy with Active Towed Array Sonars (ATAS). The ATAS systems would be fixed on non-submarine vessels, including the Delhi-class destroyers and Talwar-class frigates. The New Indian Express reports that "The contract winning company would be required to transfer the technology of the ATAS system to Indian defence public sector Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to produce 10 more of the sonars for the Kolkata-class destroyers, Shivalik-class frigates and the Kamorta-class corvette.”
The planned torpedo upgrades are intended to affect 64 current-generation surface and underwater target (SUT) torpedoes and add around 15 years to their operational lifespan.
A robust submarine force is critical for the Indian Navy’s strategic objectives in the Indian Ocean, and for India’s national defense against maritime threats. Indian naval strategist, C. Uday Bhaskar, writes "Viewed holistically, the submarine is emerging as a critical platform in the contest that is shaping up in the Indian Ocean region. The nature of the naval and nuclear-cum-missile cooperation between Pakistan and its benefactor China adds to the complexity of the challenges that India is likely to face in the years ahead.”
Although India has made some impressive advances in its submarine capabilities in the past decade – including the indigenously-developed-and-built sea-ready INS Arihant SSBN – it has faced some setbacks as well. Earlier this year, the INS Sindhurakshak, one of India’s 10 older Russian Kilo-class diesel-eletric submarines, sank at Mumbai’s naval dockyard after a series of explosions. The controversy from the incident overshadowed the INS Arihant’s launch, as well as that of the indigenously-developed Vikrant-class aircraft carrier. With the sinking of the Sindhurakshak, India’s submarine fleet stands at 12 boats, with only 6 to 8 fit for patrolling.
India’s long-stated intention to purchase six Scorpène-class submarines has not yet materialized. Its failure to procure submarines is in line with a general trend in India of bureaucratic mismanagement delaying arms procurement. According to Defense Industry Insider, "A poor Indian procurement approach, and state-run inefficiency, are pushing the country’s overall submarine force toward an aging crisis.” During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow last month, it was reported that he brought up the notion of leasing a second nuclear submarine for the Indian navy.
The Indian Navy is on its way to developing a modernized and expanded submarine force in the coming years. These upgrades are a small step in that direction.