Basking in the afterglow of the electrifying Tejas at Bahrain, we are back to the more familiar strategic mistakes the military has tendency to commit. The shock here is that it is the Indian Navy — which has always had an inherent strategic sense, which of late has been faulting on a couple of issues (such as going in for 80,000 ton plus-class carriers to accommodate the US-given EMALS — electro-magnetic aircraft launch system which, as argued in my previous writings and in my new book, will end up grievously hurting the national interest.
The immediate problem is with the CNS, Admiral Robin Dhowan, announcing that the indigenous Arihant SSBN will showcase the Indian naval complement at the 2016 Presidential Fleet Review (PFR) to be held next month in Vizag, where some 50-odd navies will be sending their ships (http://idrw.org/ins-arihant-to-be-showstopper-at-international-fleet-review-ifr/). This boat is now at the on-board weapons-firing test stage after successfully negotiating harbor trials and deep sea-diving phases, as prelude to induction in fleet operations,
SSBN spearheading a fleet review??? Have Dhowan & Co. gone stark raving mad? A reasonable question to ask considering the Chinese PLAN will be sending a flotilla of surface ships and a submarine or two. Nothing would make PLAN happier than have the Arihant right there for them to assess, and in maneuvering to the review position in the van giving away its cavitation and some sonar signature (even if it doesn’t submerge) and other metrics for both the Chinese surface and submersible fleets hereafter to key into their threat data bank connected with their fire control systems for easy identification and counter-actions. This is ridiculous. And, how long do you think it will be before PLAN passes on the Arihant-related target information to the Pakistan Navy for use by the Agosta Bs in its inventory? Beyond the pride Arihant will no doubt induce in the top naval brass by putting Arihant on show, and the frisson it may generate at the review with every adversary and friendly participating navy trying to get a fix on the Indian SSBN, what exactly is sought to be achieved by NHQ?? Considering how careful the navy has all along been in not even exposing the Kilo SSKs to US naval scrutiny in the Malabar exercises until the last one, going so public with the SSBN is nothing short of strategic disaster that bids fair to heedlessly endanger operations of the Arihant class of ships once they get fully seaborne, with the first boat pulling long distance patrols armed with nuclear-tipped missiles starting in 2017.
Time to swallow pride Mr. Dhowan and do the right thing: Pull the Arihant from the PFR, pronto, lest you eliminate even that slight strategic advantage an unexposed Indian SSBN poses PLAN and Chinese interests west of Malacca! If the CNS doesn’t relent, it is time for the defmin Manohar Parrikar to show some political leadership for a change, rather than acquiescing in every damn-fool measure instituted by the military services even when these violate common sense, and ORDER the navy to keep the Arihant under heavy wraps, especially from prying eyes at the 2016 PFR.