In yet another sign of Beijing’s growing Naval might, a fresh image has emerged of a Chinese diesel-electric submarine in Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia after an extended deployment in the Indian Ocean. In a report yesterday, NDTV showed a Google Earth image of a Chinese nuclear submarine which had docked in Karachi in May last year – a matter of serious concern for the Indian Navy which is worried about Chinese submarines tracking the movements of its own ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.
India has plans to build a number of indigenous nuclear fast attack submarines but these are likely to be at least a decade away from being delivered. In addition to this, India operates 13 Russian and German designed diesel-electric submarines with the first of six new French-designed ‘Scorpene’ class submarines still to enter service. Meanwhile, China, which has been rapidly expanding its Navy, has between 12 and 15 nuclear submarines of all types which have either been commissioned or are in an advanced stage of construction. In addition to this, China operates 56 conventionally powered submarines, making it the second largest operator of submarines in the world.
Unlike conventional submarines, nuclear-powered submarines have an unlimited range of operations since their nuclear reactors rarely require to be refuelled. This means the submarines, which are armed with torpedoes and cruise missiles, can be deployed underwater for extended durations. Diesel electric submarines, like the one which docked in Kota Kinabalu are, however, more silent when operating underwater on electric propulsion but need to surface periodically, at which stage they are more vulnerable to detection. In October 2006, in a huge embarrassment to the US Navy, a Chinese Song class submarine reportedly surfaced within nine kilometres of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk which was operating in the East China Sea. The Chinese submarine had gone undetected and surfaced within the firing range of its torpedoes.
Last month, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said, “As far as People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy ships and submarines are concerned, the Indian Navy keeps a close eye and monitor their movements. We launch surveillance missions in the form of aircraft and ships to keep a track of them.”