Undersea nuke 'war' with US - Latest edition of Malabar naval exercises to include nuclear subs

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By SUJAN DUTTA in Delhi
  • Published 21.08.08
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New Delhi, Aug. 21: A mock encounter between a US nuclear-powered submarine and an Indian submarine is among a set of manoeuvres planned for the latest edition of the India-US “Malabar” series, a senior naval officer said here today.

The US flotilla from the Carrier Strike Group-7 with the USS Ronald Reagan, the latest nuclear-powered supercarrier, will be off India’s west coast for the Malabar war game from October 15 to 24.

The duel between the submarines that is at the core of the latest edition of the exercise indicates just how the India-US military engagement has been scaled up in intensity and complexity. Both navies now claim that they are able to operate jointly in a battle group.

The last edition of the exercise in the Bay of Bengal (September 2007) — which also had four other navies participating — became a political issue with the Left alleging it was part of a programme to integrate the Indian military with America’s ambitions.

The USS Ronald Reagan is on its way to replace the USS Kitty Hawk — which was de-commissioned in May — which led the US flotilla in the last war game.

India’s only aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, is not usable right now. The carrier is being put through a major refit to extend its life.

The USSN Springfield nuclear-powered submarine and the Indian Navy’s INS Shishumar — made by German firm HDW — will face off in the Malabar “encounter-ex” to test searching, tracking and killing capability. On paper, the nuclear-powered submarine is noisier — making it easier to detect — than the diesel-electric Shishumar, but it is more powerful.

The Indian Navy is understood to have refused to pit one of its quieter Kilo-class (or Sindhughosh-class) submarines for the exercise. It had refused to deploy a submarine in the last Malabar exercise though the US had sent one.

The Indian Navy’s Sindhughosh-class submarines have recently been equipped with Klub missiles from Russia. The Iranian navy is also known to operate Kilo-class submarines.

“The exercise will involve alternating command-and-control,” said assistant chief of naval staff (foreign co-operation) Rear Admiral Pradeep Chauhan. “For part of the exercise, the US rear admiral commanding CSG-7 will be in command and for the rest it will be our western fleet commander.”

The USSN Springfield is nuclear-powered and, technically, not classified as a submarine equipped to fire nuclear warheads. The INS Shishumar is classified as an SSK — a sub-surface killer.

The “encounter-ex” — in which the Indian and US forces will face off — is scheduled from October 15 to 17. During the harbour phase of the exercise, US vessels will be berthing or anchoring off Goa and Mumbai on October 18 and 19.

Manoeuvres after the harbour phase will include visit, board, search and seizure drills, naval air patrols, airborne early warning and strike missions of aircraft on board the USS Ronald Reagan and from shore-based Sea Harriers of the Indian Navy.