The Indian Navy celebrates the launch of its first domestically developed nuclear submarine but damning criticism of a major procurement programme rains on its parade. Meanwhile, the arms race in the Korean peninsula hots up and France deploys new hardware in Afghanistan.
Indian Navy chief of staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta must sometimes feel like it is two steps forward and two steps back. In late July, the country’s first indigenously developed nuclear submarine, Arihant, was jubilantly launched at the Ship Building Centre at Vishakhapatnam.
However, in the same week, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) slammed the navy’s other major procurement programmes, slating its selection of the Franco-Spanish Scorpene conventional submarine design and attacking its decision to buy the Soviet-era ex-Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier.
The CAG was particularly damning, stating that, “At best, the Indian Navy would be acquiring, belatedly, a second-hand ship with a limited lifespan by paying significantly more than what it would have paid for a new ship.” He has a point. Estimated costs to get Gorshkov – now Vikramaditya – fixed up after a decade of neglect have spiralled from $625m in 2004 to an estimated $2.2bn (€1.5bn) today, while delivery has been delayed until 2012. Still, the launch of Arihant means the navy finally has something tangible to show for the €4.3bn it has pumped into the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme since 1974. The 6,000-ton boat has been in construction for 11 years, and it is likely to take two more years before it’s taken into service. Even then, Navy officials have privately said that it may only be used as a technology testbed.
Nevertheless, India has joined an exclusive club of five other members with nuclear subs: China, France, Russia, the UK and US. As a signal of India’s burgeoning naval power, it is a powerful statement of intent.
South Korea has unveiled plans to speed its new Sky Dragon long-range cruise missile and Red Shark torpedo into service earlier than expected in around 2012, in the latest stage of the Korean Peninsula’s spiralling arms race. The Sky Dragon has a range of about 1,000km (it can hit anywhere in North Korea) and is apparently modelled on the US Tomahawk missile.
France has visibly taken on a more war-like posture in Afghanistan in an attempt to show an organic ability to protect its troops there, with the first ever combat deployment of Eurocopter Tiger HAP attack helicopters and the debut of the army’s new CAESAR (Camion Equipé d’un Système d’Artillerie) self-propelled artillery systems. The first three Tigers were flown into Bagram airbase in late July and more are to follow. Though providing welcome top cover for French forces, the Tigers are expected to prove a challenge to support as they won't enjoy the logistics chain guaranteed to the British, Americans and Dutch who fly battle-proven Apaches.
The US Air Force (USAF) has run a series of trials to ensure that the B-2 stealth bomber can carry the service’s biggest conventional weapon, the aptly named 30,000lb Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP). This enormous new bomb is a GPS-guided weapon encased in hardened steel and designed to penetrate through layers of dirt and reinforced concrete. A B-2’s biggest load is usually made up of 80 500lb bombs, but the bomber will be able to lift two MOPs as they cram more weight into a smaller space. The USAF’s previous large bomb capacity rests with the 15,000lb BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” developed for relatively indiscriminate attacks in Vietnam. It was then used in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it was literally rolled out of the back of a Hercules transport as it was too big for any existing aircraft.
Boeing teams carried out successful tests in August on a project to shoot down ballistic missiles with a laser aboard a 747-400 “Jumbo”. But the US defence department is not convinced and is just viewing the project as a demonstrator.