While it seems like a remote possibility today, China vs. India is not quite as unlikely as it might appear at first glance. Both are rising powers in Asia, sharing a mutual border and with overlapping and conflicting spheres of interest in Southeast Asia. China also counts itself as an ally of India’s often hostile neighbor, Pakistan. Although both countries are focused on economic development today, their growth could make them hostile competitors tomorrow.
In the event of any China vs. India conflict, submarines would play a major role. Although both navies have nuclear submarines, diesel-electric boats are cheaper and therefore both fleets field them in greater numbers. Diesel-electric submarines would play a major role in any effort to deny the sea lanes of Southeast Asia to the enemy, or an Indian campaign to close the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean to oil shipments bound for China.
At the forefront of the Chinese submarine fleet are several Kilo class boats. The Russian-made Kilo is the world’s most popular export submarine. Capable of a speed of 17 knots on the surface and 10 knots while submerged, the sub has a range of 6,000 miles on its diesel engines and 400 miles on its batteries. Mission endurance is estimated to be 45 days, with a dive depth is 980 feet. The vessel is armed with an SA-8 anti-air missile system, and six 533 mm bow torpedo tubes. Fitted with anechoic tiles to absorb both active sonar and noise emitted by the submarine, the US Navy calls the sub “the Black Hole” and many regard the Kilo as the quietest sub in the world.
China also fields two home-grown diesel-electric submarines: the Type 39 (Song class) and the Type 41 (Yuan class). The Song is quiet enough that one of them got within five miles of the USS Kitty Hawk in 2006, The submarine has the standard six 533 mm torpedo tubes and can fire missiles while submerged, and is thought to be able to do 22 knots submerged and 12 to 15 knots on the surface. Little is known about the Type 41, except that it is an improvement on the Song, although it is believes to incorporate many elements from the Kilo into its design.
The Indian diesel-electric submarine fleet also has the Kilo class submarine as its major combatant, locally known as the Sindhughosh. In addition, it fields the German-made Type 209-1500 U-Boat ((locally known as the Shishumar), which can travel at 11.5 knots on the surface and at 22.5 knots submerged. The U-Boat has a range of 10,000 miles on the surface; 8,000 miles submerged and snorkeling under diesel power; and 400 miles running on batteries. The Type 209’s dive depth is 1,640 feet, and the sub is armed with 8 bow torpedo tubes. There are plans to locally produce the French-made Scorpene class, but these are mired in delays and none are presently in service.
Both India and China have the dreaded Kilo class submarine at the head of their diesel-electric patrol fleet, so any China vs. India comparison must revolve around the submarines supporting that Russian-built terror. India’s U-Boats are a fine submarine, but they are old and not expected to last past 2015. They might be a match for China’s Song submarines, but definitely not the Yuan class of boats. China earns further marks in that two of its three modern diesel-electric submarines are home-grown designs, whereas all of India’s are either imported or built under license.
Sources: globalsecurity.org; indiannavy.nic.in; sinodefence.com/navy/sub/yuan.asp