Bangladesh has finalized a deal to purchase two Ming-class submarines from China, according to a report in the local New Age newspaper.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina first announced that the country was interested in purchasing submarines back in January, as part of a broader plan to modernize its military. At the time, she did not specify which country Bangladesh would be purchasing the submarines from, but military officials told media outlets that it was in negotiations with China.
The New Age report said that the deal, which is waiting for final approval from the Finance Ministry, for the two submarines was worth $203.3 million. It would be paid by Bangladesh during the fiscal year 2017-2018, with the submarines being delivered in 2019. Seventeen Bangladeshi sailors are being trained to operate the submarines, the report said, presumably in China.
The New Age report said that the Bangladesh Navy had purchased land in Kutubdia Island where it planned to construct a submarine base.
Ming-class submarines (Type 035) are diesel-electric powered submarines based off of the Romeo-class submarines that the Soviet Union built in the 1950s. The Ming-class submarines, however, feature a number of improvements over the obsolete Soviet models. The specific variant that Bangladesh is purchasing, Type 035G, is the most recent and last Ming-class submarine. China built six of them between 1997 and 2001, according to Global Security.
Hasina has made building a “three dimensional navy” a top priority for the country. In January she declared: “We will build a modern three-dimensional navy for future generations which will be capable of facing any challenge during a war on our maritime boundary.”
Bangladesh’s decision to purchase the submarines from China is unsurprising as Dhaka has long relied heavily on Beijing for military equipment. In 2012, it was the second largest market for Chinese arms exports behind Pakistan.
Still, the move has deeply unsettled Bangladesh’s neighbor India, who is concerned about Chinese influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. News of the submarine negotiations between Bangladesh and China had already led India’s Eastern Naval Command to seek a larger presence in the Bay of Bengal, The Times of India reported earlier this month.
The newspaper quoted a senior Indian defense official as saying:
“Why would Bangladesh need submarines? This decision by the government there and the ongoing strife in the country is a matter of concern for us. We also suspect that Chinese submarines are sneaking into Indian territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal region, though none has been detected as yet. This is reason enough for greater naval presence in the region. At the moment, India isn’t really prepared for any conflict in the Bay of Bengal region near West Bengal due to the lack of adequate infrastructure.”
The report went on to describe a number of infrastructure upgrades India’s Navy is making in the area, primarily land it is looking into purchasing on Sagar Island. These include building a new port. Also in West Bengal, India is constructing a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle base in the city of Kolkata.
Bangladesh has long-standing maritime border disputes with India and Burma in the Bay of Bengal. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea International Court decided the Bangladesh-Burmese dispute in Dhaka’s favor last year.
Meanwhile, in 2009 Bangladesh instituted proceedings against India over the dispute in the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration. The hearing took place this month, from December 9th through December 18th. A decision is expected sometime next year.