The Asia-Pacific Submarine Buildup; Do They Know Something We Don't?

Naval strategist and historian Geoffrey Till, whose recent paper on the balance of naval power in Asia we linked to last week, notices a significant boost in Asia-Pacific submarine builds and buys. Total submarine numbers are expected to increase markedly over the next two decades in Asia-Pacific waters, particularly among smaller powers where small and stealthy submarines are seen as a “force equalizer,” he writes.

South Korea is buying six more of the medium sized KSS II/Type 214 Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) boats and plans to build a more capable KSS III type. Vietnam has ordered six Project 636 Kilo boats from Russia. Singapore bought two modern Vastergotland class subs retro-fitted with AIP systems from Sweden. Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are all developing or enhancing submarines, Till writes.

Australia’s 2009 Defense White paper calls for doubling its sub fleet to 12 boats, all equipped with cruise missiles. India is building six Scorpene class subs under French license. The recent Pentagon assessment of China’s PLA Navy modernization says it may add up to five Type 095 nuclear attack boats and 15 more of the diesel-electric Yuan class boats in the coming years.

I asked a very smart naval strategist who works for the Navy for his take on what’s going on with the big submarine push in the Asia-Pacific. He said that the recent sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan reinforces the fact that the smart play in future naval warfare is to be under the water and shoot a missile, not above the water and take a missile hit.

India appears to have learned the lesson: the Indian Navy recently put in an order for midget subs.

-- Greg Grant

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