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Outpaced underwater: India attempts to bridge submarine warfare gap with another Shishumar-class upgrade

An Indian Navy Shishumar-class submarine, seen here during a 2011 fleet review. The country has recently awarded a contract to upgrade its second Shishumar-class submarine. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP via Getty Images)

New Delhi has taken another step towards bolstering its underwater warfare capabilities as the Indian Navy confronts the need to urgently position its fast-ageing fleet of attack submarines for increased security requirements in the Indian Ocean Region.

However, the tempo at which the country is modernising its fleet of in-service submarines means that the Indian Navy is at risk of being outpaced by a regional rival when it comes to underwater fighting capabilities.

The Indian government announced on 30 June that it has awarded Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) a INR27.25 billion (USD331 million) contract to upgrade the country's second Shishumar (Type 209/1500)-class submarine, INS Shankush .

The long-anticipated contract was awarded as part of the class's medium refit and life certification (MRLC) programme, which seeks to improve the fleet's combat capabilities and extend the service of each vessel by at least 10 years.

The upgrade announcement came against the backdrop of what can be seen as an emerging underwater warfare capability gap between the Indian Navy and its rival service, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), whose submarines have been operating more frequently in the Indian Ocean Region, especially in recent years.

The Indian Navy presently operates a fleet of 16 diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs) and is believed to be operating two Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), although the in-service status of the second SSBN has not been officially confirmed by the Indian government.

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