Navy rings China nuclear sub alarm

Concern over use of nuclear-powered boat for patrols near Indian waters

  • Published 25.03.15

New Delhi, March 24: The Indian Navy has flagged concern over the deployment of a Chinese nuclear submarine for anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden that transited through waters close to India.

The navy has told the government that the submarine, probably a Shang-class Type T094 nuclear-powered boat, was capable of "profiling the coastline", a source in the Indian Navy has told The Telegraph.

The SSN (sub-surface nuclear) attack submarine was deployed from December 13, 2014, to February 14, 2015.

The deployment of the submarine that joined a Chinese task force of two frigates and a fleet supply ship just for counter-piracy does not make operational sense, the navy has pointed out. An SSBN (sub-surface ballistic nuclear) submarine - that also forms part of the Chinese PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy) fleet - transiting the same route as the SSN would have brought India within range of a missile, the navy reported to the government. An SSBN, unlike an SSN, is both nuclear-powered and equipped to launch nuclear-tipped missiles.

The Chinese task force was also joined by a research vessel capable of bathymetric studies - mapping the depth of the ocean floors. The Indian Navy has told the government the Chinese may have been conducting hydrological studies in India's western seaboard. But the navy said it did not spot the Chinese boats in Indian territorial waters.

The ships formed part of the Chinese PLAN flotilla called the 18th convoy fleet from its South Sea Fleet.

The Indian Navy had been studying the Chinese counter-piracy deployment since 2008. Even the US Navy - the largest expeditionary force of its kind in the world - was impressed by the PLAN's deployment.

The Indian Navy has now responded by prolonging the deployment of its own frigates in counter-piracy patrols. While the practice was to recall each ship after a month's deployment, the navy has now prolonged the deployment of its warships to three months.

Nuclear-powered submarines are capable of staying submerged for much longer periods than conventional diesel-electric submarines that have to surface every two or three days to recharge batteries. The longer a submarine remains underwater, the more undetectable it is.

The deployment of the Chinese SSN submarine followed objections from India after a Chinese conventional submarine had docked in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, in September last year. India views Sri Lanka as a strategic partner and it's support to a Chinese military asset was frowned-upon by New Delhi.

PLAN's 18th convoy fleet returned to its homeport in Guangdog over the weekend after a seven-month deployment and another flotilla - the 19th convoy fleet - has set sail to continue with the anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.