Analysis: Asian navies -- Part 1

By ANDREI CHANG   |   July 9, 2008 at 2:34 PM
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HONG KONG, July 9 (UPI) -- After 10 years of steady effort, both India and China have made significant qualitative changes in their navies, but in terms of submarine capabilities -- the construction of SSNs and SSBNs -- China is now far ahead of India, however.

China has built two 094 class SSBNs and two 093 class SSNs, along with JL2 and JL1M submarine-launched ballistic missiles -- SLBMs -- that are ready to go into service in the People's Liberation Army navy, if they have not already done so.

In contrast, India is only preparing to receive one Russian-made Akura SSN for testing purposes by the end of 2008. In February 2008 the Indian navy also launched from under water a 420-mile-range K-15 ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Nonetheless, India's pace in the construction of large-tonnage surface battleships and an aircraft carrier is faster than China's. Thanks to the 174-mile-range BrahMos supersonic multi-role missile jointly developed by India and Russia, the overall technological standard of the Indian navy's ship-to-ship missile is superior to that of China's PLA navy. India's surface warships currently being built will all be fitted with BrahMos SSMs, according to the plan of the Indian navy.

Ships added to the PLA navy over the past 10 years include two 051C DDGs, two 052B DDGs, two 052C DDGs, four 956E/EM DDGs and one 051B DDG, all of which have a full-load displacement of more than 6,000 tons. Six additional ships, 054 and 054A FFGs, also have been built. These surface warships are the flagships of the modern Chinese navy.

In the Indian navy over the past 10 years three Delhi Class DDGs and three 4,000-ton class Type 1135.6 FFGs have been commissioned, with the latter armed with 180-mile-range Club-N surface-to-surface missiles. The Indian navy also has received three Type 16A FFGs with full-load displacement of 4,500 tons and armed with 16 units of H-35 surface-to-surface missiles.

As a result, in terms of the construction of surface battleships above 6,000 tons, China is temporarily ahead of India, while in the building of 4,000-ton class missile frigates, India and China are about equal, with India slightly ahead in technology.

The Indian navy also is armed with one Hermes aircraft carrier with a full-load displacement of 28,000 tons as well as 12 Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51 fighters. Obviously, the Indian navy's experience in the use of an aircraft carrier is superior to that of the PLA navy.

Regarding the surface warships under construction right now, India seems to be much more ambitious than China. Since 2007 the only large surface warship China has been building is the 054A FFG. In contrast, the Indian navy has started to build three P-15A DDGs at its Mazagon Shipyard. This is an upgraded variant of the Delhi Class DDG, with drastic changes. So far one P-15A has been launched already.

A source from the Mazagon Shipyard told the author in New Delhi the P-15A construction program is now giving way to the Shivalik, or P-17 FFG. The first P-17 will be delivered to the Indian navy within this year, and the second and third will be delivered in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

The two types of surface warships mentioned above all will be fitted with a vertical-launched version of the BrahMos SSM supersonic cruise missile. The P-15A will be armed with 16 such missiles. The P15A DDG has a full-load displacement of 7,000 tons, and still uses the Shtil-1 ship-to-air missile. The P-17 is India's indigenous stealthy FFG and has a full-load displacement of 5,300 tons. It is also armed with Shtil-1 ship-to-air missiles.

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(Part 2: Submarine construction plans)

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(Andrei Chang is editor in chief of Kanwa Defense Review Monthly, registered in Toronto.)

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