December 1967, the Indian tricolour was hoisted for the first time on a submarine with the commissioning of the INS Kalvari, a Soviet-built Foxtrot class submarine in Riga (in the erstwhile USSR). In the 52 years since, the Indian Navy’s submarine arm has come a long way, and constitutes the cutting edge of its offensive combat capability.
Fifty years later, almost to the day, the INS Kalvari had a second coming – this time as a French/Spanish Scorpene-class submarine, built at the Mazagaon Docks Limited with technology transfer and assistance from the French company DCNS as part of ‘Project 75’ to build six submarines of the class. Submarines constitute the cutting edge of a navy’s frontline offensive capability across the entire spectrum of conflict – strategic, operational and tactical.
In the emerging maritime security scenario in the Indo-Pacific, and more specifically in the Indian Ocean region which is India’s primary area of interest, a robust undersea warfare capability with submarines as the principal component is an imperative. Since India aspires to become a major power in a predominantly maritime-oriented Indo-Pacific, it requires a balanced, multi-dimensional blue-water navy. The advancements in technology and enhanced surveillance capability have made the oceans increasingly transparent thus shifting the focus to undersea warfare.
Although India has a force level of 17 submarines, its lack of a balanced submarine force development programme is a strategic vulnerability that needs immediate attention as it seeks a larger global role as a regional power.