Indo-Pacific today is evolving into a significant frontier in the international arena, with an unstable geopolitical equilibrium for sea dominance due to China’s expansionist plans.
South China and Asian Feuds are fuelling the race among nations to acquire Submarines and Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) Capability. The territorial disputes among Asian countries, over the Spratly Islands involving Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Brunei; the Paracel Islands claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam but occupied by China, and the Senkaku Islands (Senkaku-shoto/Diaoyu Tai) occupied by Japan and claimed by China and Taiwan. Beijing’s lays claim over what it calls the “Nine-Dash Line”, or “First Island Chain”. In essence, it is the entire mass of water between it and Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The threats that Taiwan faces are forceful unification from China, from North Korea and South sea China disputes. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) now possesses the capability to impose a blockade on Taiwan and conduct multidimensional operations to seize offshore islands.
As response to the U.S. strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region, China is engaging in rapid naval modernization effort for asserting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea; displacing U.S. influence in the Western Pacific; and asserting China’s status as a leading regional power and major world power.
Protecting the Chinese mainland and its territorial claims around the region are what Beijing calls “near seas defense.” China has assembled the world’s largest naval force. And now it’s working to make it formidable far from its shores. China’s ongoing naval expansion is the largest since World War II. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has amassed a large force of cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious ships, and built the country’s first two aircraft carriers, with a third on the way. In 2015, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had 255 battle force ships in its fleet, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). As of the end of 2020, it had 360, over 60 more than the US Navy, according to an ONI forecast.
China’s massive naval buildup coincides with it reinforcing its claims to almost all of the 3.3 million square-kilometer (1.3 million square-mile) South China Sea by building up tiny reefs and sandbars into man-made artificial islands heavily fortified with missiles, runways and weapons systems.
Japan has announced the acceleration of a warship-building program, hoping to construct two additional frigates each year to better enforce their claim on the East China Sea. Japan has been embroiled in a land dispute with China and Taiwan over several islands in the East China Sea since the 1970s, as reported by Sputnik News. President Donald Trump declared US support for the Japanese claim on Tuesday, February 14. “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent,” said Trump in a joint statement with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
China has responded by sailing naval vessels through the disputed waters, doing so now about thrice monthly. “No matter what anyone says or does, it cannot change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China, and cannot shake China’s resolve and determination to protect national sovereignty and territory,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.
In April 2020 it became known that the Philippines will purchase submarines in the next 11 years, and in may, Myanmar declared interest in buying two submarines.
China is the largest investor in Pakistan’s Gwadar Deep Sea Port, which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. It is viewed warily by both America and India as a possible launchpad for the Chinese Navy, giving them the ability to launch submarines and warships in the Indian Ocean. China has recently pledged to invest nearly $43 billion US dollars. Last month, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production confirmed a contract with China for the purchase of eight conventional diesel electric submarines, which will cost between $4 billion to $5 billion (Rs. 25,600 crore to Rs. 33,200 crore), China’s biggest defence export deal.
India has joined hands with the like-minded nations by participating as QUAD Naval force and collaborating with EU (European Union) and UK to maintain the freedom of navigation (FONOPS) in the Indo-Pacific, to ensure an assured rights, freedoms and lawful use of the seas within the purview of the international laws.
Submarine and Anti Submarine Warfare Race
Over half of the world’s submarines will be in Asia by 2030, as Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore, modernize their militaries and look to hedge against instability by building undersea fleets. Submarine production spending across Asia Pacific will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.17 percent for the next 10 years to reach $52.5 billion in total by 2026, according to the latest figures released today by IHS Markit. Currently, there are 145 submarines owned and operated by 12 regional powers including Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, according to latest analysis from Jane’s Fighting Ships.
“The security architecture in Asia is affected by numerous factors, creating a complex network of bilateral and multilateral alliances,” said Paul Burton, Jane’s research and analysis director at IHS Markit. “One of the main trends is the evident appetite to develop a submarine capability. “One main driver is the obvious threat posed by China’s growing naval projection capabilities. However, the expansion of other major actors such as Japan, Australia, the US, Russia and India is forcing smaller countries to counter these efforts with procurement of platforms that could facilitate an asymmetrical strategy,” Burton said.
According to international submarine warfare analyst H.I. Sutton, the Chinese 11,000-ton Type 094 Jin Class submarine suddenly emerged from the deep among a fishing fleet operating off the Paracel Islands. “The Jin Class is the newest missile submarine in the Chinese arsenal,” international submarine warfare analyst H.I. Sutton writes in Forbes. “Six have been built and are already the backbone of China’s at-sea nuclear deterrent.”
The People’s Liberation Army Navy now has about 70 submarines – very close to the US’ total – with 16 of them nuclear-powered, according to the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress last year on China’s military and security development. Fifteen of China’s non-nuclear submarines are stealthy, equipped with quiet Stirling air-independent propulsion (AIP) engines that also allow them to stay submerged for long durations. In the next 10 years, China will have more submarines than the U.S. Navy, as that country continues to both grow and upgrade its undersea fighting force. The U.S. will have 66 subs of all types by 2030, compared to China’s projected 76.
Submarines are one of deadliest weapons which are hardest to detect, literally a pile of submerged nuclear weapons ready to unleash widespread destruction with single command. In case of a nuclear war the stealthy submarines have a greater chance of surviving the first strike. Once on high alert the boats can leave their bases stay undetected for months and can carry and fire missiles that could sink even the sturdiest ship and flatten entire cities.
The main mission for this type of boats is to patrol undetected under the water. Once the country has been attacked these boats are designed to launch their ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. So current position of these submarines are kept in high secrecy. Modern submarines employ stealth techniques to detect, track and engage these boats before they can launch their deadly missiles. Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) involves the deployment of surface warships, aircraft, or other submarines to search, detect, find, track, damage or destroy enemy submarines; or deter operations by the enemy.
The US Navy operated 75 nuclear-powered submarines in 2014, with around 15 being the more modern Virginia or Seawolf-class designs, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, it deploys just four Los Angeles-class submarines in the Asia-Pacific region, operating out of its naval base in Guam.
US OHIO Class Ballistic Submarine
The Ohio class ballistic missile submarines were designed in the United States in the early 1970s. Each Ohio class boat carries 24 ballistic missiles. Each of the boat is fitted with Trident II Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs).
The Trident II alone are one of most capable ballistic missiles in the world. These missiles have a range of 7 800 km with full load and 12 000 km with reduced load. Each US Trident II missiles can carry up to 14 warheads with a 475 kT yield each. Each re-entry vehicle is targeted independently. Furthermore re-entry vehicles maneuver in order to avoid enemy air defenses. A single Ohio-class submarine of today can unleash more destructive power than has been used in all of the wars in the world’s history.
Because of their longer-range Trident missiles, the Ohio class boats have patrol areas in waters either close to the US or in the remoter parts of the world’s oceans, making virtually impossible effective anti-submarine measures. The USA controls most of the water area with its fleet. It makes these ICMBs extremely deadly. The more so as the boats, are acoustically very quiet.
Recently 4 Ohio class boats were converted to guided missile submarines. Their Trident missile tubes were modified to contain vertical launch systems for Tomahawk cruise missiles. So as of 2017 a total of 14 Ohio class ballistic missiles submarines remain in service
China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and submarines.
China’s newest nuclear attack sub, Type 094A, is based in an undersea submarine base at Yulin in Hainan, similar to that in Subic, complete with underground shelters. It has supreme stealth capability, just like the US Ohio-class SSBNs. The Type 094A is armed with a 12 JL-2A multiple-warhead nuclear missiles, with a range of 11,200 kilometers. JL-2, the ‘tsunami missile’, stands for the Mandarin word for ‘Big Wave’.
China is pursuing joint-design and production of four to six Russian advanced diesel-electric attack submarines containing Russia’s latest submarine sonar, propulsion, and quieting technology. “The deal would improve the PLA Navy’s capabilities and assist China’s development of quiet submarines, thus complicating future US efforts to track and counter the PLA submarines.”
China is commissioning three nuclear-powered Type-093G attack submarines which have the capability to fire supersonic anti-ship missiles. The Type-093G is engineered to reduce noise, improve speed and mobility and fire the latest YJ-18 supersonic anti-ship missile, capable of causing significant damage to aircraft carriers. China now operates a greater number of attack submarines than the US military and is rapidly expanding the scope of its undersea missions and patrols.
In June 2016, the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet also commissioned the Type 056A corvette Qujing, the tenth such vessel assigned to it, which reportedly has “good stealth performance” and has been upgraded with a towed array sonar for ASW. As of 2016, a total of twenty-six Type 056 corvettes are in service throughout the PLAN, and there might eventually be sixty or more, likely including quite a few of this ASW variant.
China is building World’s largest submarine factory capable for construction of four submarines simultaneously—out of sight from military enthusiasts and spy satellites alike
China has been establishing an underwater system of ocean floor acoustic arrays in the near seas, referred to as the “Underwater Great Wall Project” by the China State Shipbuilding Corporation responsible for its construction. CSSC says that, among other things, its objective is to provide customers with “a package solution in terms of underwater environment monitoring and collection, real-time location, tracing of surface and underwater targets, warning of seaquakes, tsunamis, and other disasters as well as marine scientific research”. Specific components of CSSC’s surveillance system include surface ships, sonar systems, underwater security equipment, marine oil and gas exploration equipment, underwater unmanned equipment, and marine instrument electronic equipment.
Vietnam’s navy has taken possession of three Russian-built Kilos and a fourth is in transit under a US$2.6 billion deal struck with Moscow in 2009, according to Vietnamese state press reports. A fifth is undergoing sea-trials off St Petersburg and a final sixth submarine is due for completion in 2016.
Vietnam is the first Southeast Asian nation to arm its submarine fleet with a land attack missile. SIPRI has logged the sale of 50 anti-ship and land attack Klubs to Vietnam as part of the deal, with 28 having been delivered already over the last two years.
While those would potentially target Chinese ships and submarines in the South China Sea, the land attack weapons are capable of precision strikes at a range of 300km, making China’s coastal cities potential targets in any conflict.
Taiwan’s indigenous submarine (IDS) project is progressing. The prototype ship is scheduled to be launched in 2024, and will be delivered to ROC Navy in 2025. Taiwan’s programme to build its own submarine fleet has received a boost after the US approved the sale of three key pieces of equipment. Ministry officials had said there were three major types of equipment — digital sonar systems, integrated combat systems and auxiliary equipment system (periscopes) — that the island could not produce and must rely on US technology.
China protested to the United States over its agreeing to licensing of submarine technology, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying any U.S. effort to “play the Taiwan card” would fail.
Taiwan, which is finding it difficult to purchase weapons because of pressure from China on potential suppliers, has set its own ambitious target to create their own 8 submarines. On March 21 the navy signed a memorandum of understanding with two Taiwanese companies, in shipbuilding and ship design, to develop the island’s own submarines over the next four years, Taiwan’s defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.The first boat of Taiwan must stand in line in 2027.
In a ceremony on November 2019, Japan launched its latest submarine, the Toryu. It is its second to be equipped with lithium-ion batteries. Japan is the first country to field this game-changing technology in submarines.
Three anonymous sources with knowledge of Japan’s navy say that Tokyo’s Self Defense Forces will construct two 3,000-ton frigates as well as one 5,000-ton destroyer in the 2018 fiscal year. Japan intends to create a small but highly modern fleet of eight vessels that may also be used for minesweeping and submarine hunting.Naval shipyards are expected to bid for the contracts to build the eight frigates. Each ship will cost 40-50 billion yen ($353-$443 million) for a total outlay of over $3 billion.
Japan is expanding its submarine fleets in response to Chinese anti-access/area-denial threats. The 6th Soryu-class SSK, SS-506 Kokuryu, (meaning Black Dragon) was commissioned into service with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) at the Kawasaki Heavy Industries shipyard in Kobe on March 9th. The Soryu Class diesel-electric submarines are being built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF).
Ten Soryu Class submarines are planned for the JMSDF. The class is an improved version of the Oyashio Class submarine. Japan’s navy operates six Soryu attack subs and 11 older Oyashio-class vessels. It plans a total fleet of 22 submarines.
North and South Korea are technically still at war, since the Korean war (1950-1953) ended with a ceasefire that was never replaced with a peace treaty.
South Korea possesses nine Chang Bogo-class submarines. These submarines are 56 meters long with a 6.2-meter-wide beam and can travel up to 21.5 knots when submerged. They can remain submerged for about 50 days without surfacing. Their weapons systems are capable of firing torpedoes. South Korea in 2030 wants to increase its submarine fleet to 27 units and reach a stable export their submarines.
South Korea has received its most advanced submarine to counter North Korea’s underwater combat capabilities, the country’s defense procurement agency says. The new submarine is expected to improve South Korea’s underwater prowess against North, which is believed to have a fleet of at least 80 submarines.
Along with Japan, South Korea is also planning to adopt lithium-ion batteries for their future submarines. Their latest Jangbogo-III class boats are already among the most well armed non-nuclear submarines in the world.
Philippines Department of National Defense Assistant Secretary for Logistics and Acquisition (ASEC), Jesus Rey. R Avilla, visited the Korean Navy Submarine Force Command on May 12, 2021 to discuss Philippine-Korea submarine cooperation. “Philippines is an ally who stood by our side during the Korean War and we look forward to returning the favor the Philippines through a long-term submarine cooperation” said the Commander.
Australia is in danger of being left with a critical “submarine capability gap” in a future Asia Pacific conflict, a Senator and naval veteran has warned. “With tensions rising between Australia and China, it is vital we have effective submarine capability,” he told nine.com.au. The Collins vessels are scheduled to end their service by 2026, while the first of Australia’s 12 new Attack-class submarines is not expected to be delivered until about 2035 – potentially leaving the Australian Defence Force without submarines for years.
In 2009, the Australian Government’s Defence White Paper announced that a class of twelve submarines would be built. However inn February 2015 the Abbott Government announced a “competitive evaluation process” between competing Japanese, French, and German designs, with a winning design to be announced before 2016.
Japan had been the front-runner in the planned sale of around 12 vessels, for as much as $40 billion, to replace Australia’s ageing Collins class submarines. Australia wants Japan involved in the process, because it is interested in Tokyo’s 4,000-ton Soryu-class sub and its lithium-ion battery propulsion system. The German and French makers offer 2,000-ton vessels.
Japanese Defense Ministry has agreed to it’s first disclosure of classified technical data to a foreign military other than that of ally the United States, because Australia needs it to make a decision on the submarine’s technical capability, the officials said. U.S. is also backing Japanese submarine packed with American surveillance, radar and weapons equipment, as it shall result in greater interoperability with U.S. weapons and combat control systems resulting in greater regional cooperation to counter Chinese’s growing military might.
France’s Naval Group and Australia on Feb. 2019 signed a $35 billion contract to build 12 Attack-class submarines for the Australian navy. This Strategic Partnering Agreement governing the transfer of Naval Group’s “know-how” and “know-why” to Australia was signed in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. It sets out the principles of cooperation between the two partners not only for the next 50 years but for any future contracts in the framework of the program. According to these principles, Naval Group will deliver 12 Attack-class submarines – with construction on the first scheduled to start in late 2023 and to be fully mission-ready for the navy in late 2034. The pact also positions Naval Group to deliver new technologies and advanced manufacturing capabilities to Australia.
“Submarines are a critical element of our maritime strategy,” said VADM Ray Griggs, Chief of Australian Navy. Because of their potency, our submarines can have a powerful conventional deterrent effect. But there is also a much longer term deterrent impact. By having such capable submarines in the ADF order of battle, any potential adversary must be able to defeat our submarine capability. And, as many in navies and air forces around the world can testify, anti-submarine warfare is one of the more complex maritime warfare disciplines to be effective at. It takes a range of expensive high-end capabilities –surface, air and sub-surface units – which must be developed and maintained over many years.
The Australian Navy has quietly begun to investigate whether German-built submarines could provide temporary capacity to Australia before a future $ 90 billion French design fleet goes into service within a decade. Australia will refurbish its ageing Collins-class submarine fleet, The Australian newspaper reported in June 2021, as doubts over Canberra’s A$50 billion ($38.8 billion) deal for 12 new submarines built by French shipbuilder Naval Group grow.
Pakistan—China’s “all-weather friendship” has become even closer in the wake of America’s pullout from Afghanistan.
During the President Xi’s recent visit to Pakistan, China announced an aid package worth US$46 billion. The 80 percent of aid package shall be used in developing a China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor, which comprises energy pipelines, road networks and rail networks, extending from Pakistan’s southern port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to Xinjiang province in China’s west. This shall allow Beijing to pipe the Iranian oil across the Iran-Pakistan border to the port at Gwadar and from there to Xinjiang., bypassing the Strait of Malacca.
Li Jie, a researcher at the PLA Navy’s Military Academy, said the submarine deal likely involved the Type 039-class, a diesel-electric vessel that first went into operation in the 1990s. “The Type 039-class submarine is equipped with an advanced air-independent propulsion system, which would allow the warship to stay and operate underwater much longer and make it more difficult to be detected by its enemies,” Li said.
“The Pakistan Navy will gain a competitive advantage in their underwater fighting capability. Pakistan operates five French submarines. The Pakistan Navy requires 12 submarines laid out in the Armed Forces Development Plan (AFDP) 2015 and a later revised plan.
The Indian Ocean, considered the backyard of the Indian Navy, is critical to the country’s strategic interests. The last decade has seen Beijing scale up its presence in the Indian Ocean, building a string of ports, power plants and highways across the small island nations at the cost of billions of dollars. They’ve now had three deployments in the Indian Oceans. India has decided to ink MoU with Iran for expansion of Chabahar Port , as an answer to Pakistan’s Gwadar port with China. It would act as a gateway for the country to Afghanistan and Central Asia opening up major commercial and strategic opportunities.
“India is planning to boost its undersea capabilities by inducting 24 more submarines, including six nuclear-powered attack vessels, by 2030,” the navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said. At present, India operates 13 conventional vessels and a nuclear submarine, INS Chakra, leased from Russia, while the indigenous nuclear-powered INS Arihant is undergoing sea trials.
The second of the Indian Navy’s six Scorpene submarines, INS Khanderi, was inducted into service in September 2019. The first Scorpene submarine, called INS Kalvari, was commissioned in 2017. The third submarine, INS Karanj, launched in January 2018, is undertaking sea trials. INS Khanderi was manufactured by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited at a cost of ₹187.98 billion (about $2.6 billion) under an India-France bilateral agreement in 2005 to build six Scorpene class submarines in India.
Not including the Scorpenes, India currently has two other older types of diesel-electric submarine types, the Sindhughosh (Kilo) class and the Shishumar (HDW 209/1500) class diesel-electric submarines, and the nuclear-powered Arihant class (as well as the leased Chakra class nuclear submarine). The Navy is also looking at nuclear power as an option for the next sea-borne aircraft carrier, which will be the follow-on to the INS Vikrant currently being built in Kochi. The Navy is also likely to lease a new nuclear attack submarine from Russia shortly.
In June 2021, the Indian Defence Ministry cleared a mega project to domestically build six conventional submarines for the Indian Navy at a cost of around Rs 43,000 crore, in a major decision aimed at significantly boosting India’s naval prowess in the face of China rapidly expanding its maritime capabilities. The submarines will be built under the much-talked-about strategic partnership model that allows domestic defence manufacturers to join hands with leading foreign defence majors to produce high-end military platforms to reduce import dependence.
India and the United States, which already conduct joint naval exercises, both fly the new version of the P-8 aircraft, making information sharing easier on highly sensitive submarine tracking activities. The P-8 is Washington’s most advanced submarine hunting weapon, equipped with sensors that can track and identify submarines by sonar and other means. The two sides also said their navies will hold talks on anti submarine warfare (ASW), an area of sensitive military technology and closely held tactics that only allies share.
The P-8I is the Indian variant of P-8A Poseidon operated by the U.S. Navy for long range maritime reconnaissance and ASW requirements. India contracted Boeing to build eight of these aircraft for the Indian Navy. It was deployed recently for surveillance in the exclusive economic zone of Seychelles and had been pressed into action to hunt for Chinese submarines probing near the strategically located Andaman and Nicobar islands. The P-8I boasts advanced sensor and communication suites and is armed with missiles, torpedoes, and depth charges.
China has also promised to deliver two Type 035G Ming-class diesel-electric submarines to Bangladesh Navy by 2019. Myanmar is using Chinese experts to train its submarine personnel. It also sent a contingent of navy personnel for submarine warfare training in Pakistan in mid-2013. Myanmar has announced plans to build its own fleet of submarines, and is expected to look towards Russia for supplies. Thailand with over $ 390 million is going to buy submarines from China and, perhaps, then two more.
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