One of the basic characteristics common to most countries in the Asia-Pacific region is that most of these nations are surrounded or are bordered by the sea.
To protect their shores, these nations need to safeguard and keep their maritime lanes open by deploying modern naval systems and capabilities. One of the most effective defense weapons in any navy arsenal is the submarine, which gives even a small naval force a significant advantage against a bigger force without submarine support.
For several years after World War II , the smaller and less economically stable Asian countries aspired to have their own submarine fleets to boost their naval defenses. In the post-Cold War era, submarines remain as the top capital ships for most modern navies, according to the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and Asia-Pacific nations are eager to have these same capabilities as well. However, the extremely high cost of procurement, operation and maintenance of submarine fleets were beyond the economic capabilities of these nations during that time period, and only a few nations were able to incorporate these vessels in their naval fleet.
But the advent of more modern and cost-effective diesel-electric submarines now make it possible for the more economically stable countries in the Asia-Pacific region to add submarines and expand their navies. China and India are at the head of the Asian race to improve undersea capabilities, and have upped the ante by throwing nuclear-powered submarines into the fray. Other countries such as Japan, North and South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia are beefing up their naval arsenal and have made concrete moves to procure more diesel-electric submarines over the course of the next decade.
Existing Naval and Submarine Capabilities
The following describes the current maritime capabilities of major Asian navies and their future plans of procuring additional submarines to their inventories, based on reports from SHP Media.
China has the strongest submarine fleet in the region with more than 60 submarines deployed in the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The Chinese navy has plans of modernizing their existing inventory and will phase out the 30-year old Romeo-class diesel submarines, replacing them with Ming-class, Song-class, or the Russian-built Kilo-class submarines. There are also plans of procuring Russian Akula-class nuclear attack submarines, on top of existing plans to build the new nuclear-powered ballistic-missile Type 094-class submarines.
The Indian Navy has four Shisumar-class HDW Type 209/1500 submarines, ten Sindhugosh-class Type 877EM submarines and two ‘about-to-be-decommissioned’ Foxtrot-class boats. Aside from plans to upgrade these existing inventories, the Indian Navy has ordered six Scorpene submarines and plans to add another six advanced submarines equipped with air independent propulsion systems.
Indonesia is an archipelago with vast maritime coverage but only has two recently overhauled and upgraded Type 209 submarines built in Germany. Indonesia has plans of acquiring at least 12 submarines before the year 2024. These include Type 209/1200 Chang Bogo-class submarines from South Korea as well as Kilo-class and Amur-class submarines from Russia, plus additional Type 214 subs from Germany.
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) has two Scorpene submarines jointly developed and built by DCNA and Navantia. The RMN is planning to acquire more units of the same class and Scorpene design as well as smaller variants called the Andrasta, which is designed to operate in coastal waters off Malaysia’s shores.
The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) has four tropicalized and refurbished Sjoormen-class SSK training submarines that were previously part of the Royal Swedish Navy. The submarines were designed and optimized for shallow waters and are suitable for the surrounding waters around Singapore. Singapore also procured additional A-17 Vastergotland-class subs from Sweden as replacements for their existing Challenger-class submarines.
The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) is keen on building their own submarine fleet and has plans of procuring either Russian-built Amur-class submarines or Song-class submarines from China.
Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has existing 18 Harushio-class and Oyashio-class diesel-electric submarines deployed in their naval service, but it has plans of deploying the more advanced Soryu-class subs with advanced air independent propulsion (AIP) systems.
The South Korean navy has nine Type-209 Chang Bogo-class and two Type 214 Sohn Wonyil-class submarines deployed. By 2018, South Korea plans to build seven more of the Type 214-class submarines which were developed using German technology.
Due to pressures from the Chinese government, the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) had problems procuring new diesel submarines to add to their old Hai Lung submarines and two Dutch-built Zwaardvis-class submarines. The United States already approved sales of eight additional diesel-powered submarines to Taiwan but does not currently have the manufacturing capabilities to complete the orders.
The Pakistan Navy has deployed three Agosta 90B-class subs, four Daphne-class subs and two Agosta 70 submarines. The Daphne-class subs are to be decommissioned and
The Australian government is also planning to upgrade their naval fleet to the next generation of submarines as replacement for their existing Collins-class submarines, which are forecasted to end their useful service period in 2026. Design work on the new generation of Australian submarines will begin in 2014-2015 and will be their most expensive acquisition for defense inventories, costing $25 billion and taking up to 17 years to complete.
Excluding China, the Asian market is set to spend over US $50 billion for more than 90 submarines in the coming decade. These procurements will not only focus on conventional diesel-electric submarine technologies but many of these Asian countries are also looking into acquiring nuclear-powered capabilities as well as next-generation air independent propulsion systems for a stealthier and more enduring underwater defense system.