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Dive! Dive! The emerging submarine power players

indian submarine kalvari on sea trials
The Indian Navy is rapidly developing a diverse submarine capability combining both nuclear and conventional powered submarines like Kalvari (Source Indian Navy)

While the major powers continue to be the focus of much of the spotlight, the region’s emerging powers are quietly developing their own potent submarine forces and capabilities. 

While the major powers continue to be the focus of much of the spotlight, the region’s emerging powers are quietly developing their own potent submarine forces and capabilities. 

As established submarine powers like the US, China, Russia and Japan continue to introduce increasingly potent and diverse submarine capabilities, emerging regional powers like India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia are each responding to rising great power submarine rivalry with their own unique platforms and capabilities. 


For these nations, potent submarine platforms serve to enhance their broader defence capabilities and some of the natural geo-strategic advantages nations such as Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, for example, enjoy. 

In Run silent, run deep: Understanding the regional submarine rivalry we took a closer look at the submarine capabilities being introduced or currently in operation with the great powers and regional leaders in Indo-Pacific Asia. 

So, what do the capabilities and platforms of the emerging regional players look like? 

Indian Navy: India currently operates a diverse fleet of submarines, including a nuclear powered attack submarine and a ballistic missile submarine and a growing fleet of diesel-electric powered, attack submarines. 

India's submarine fleet is designed to operate in a variety of environments and capacities, ranging from open ocean, blue-water navy and nuclear deterrent roles to littoral patrol and conventional hunter-killer operations.  


Attack Submarines (SSN): 

  • Chakra (Akula) Class: India signed a decade-long lease with Russia to operate an Akula Class submarine, with ongoing negotiations to secure a second vessel. As the pinnacle of Soviet attack submarine design, the Akula and its variants vary in size from 8,140 tonnes to 13,800 tonnes submerged with a top speed between 28-35 knots when submerged. The Akula Class were designed to limit the operating and power projection capability of the US Navy's aircraft carriers and associated task groups through overwhelming firepower, including 28 533mm torpedoes, 12 650mm torpedoes, Klibr land-attack cruise missiles and Igla-M surface-to-air missile launcher.    

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • Shishumar Class: India's oldest conventional submarines, the Shishumar are based on the HDW designed Type 209 submarine. The vessels have a submerged weight of 1,850 tonnes, a submerged speed of 22 knots and range of between 15,000 and 24,000 kilometres. The fleet of four submarines are capable of carrying 14 torpedoes, 24 external, strap-on mines and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
  • Sindhughosh (Kilo) Class: The Indian Navy operates a fleet of nine Russian-designed Kilo Class attack submarines. As with their Russian counterparts, the Sindughosh Class are designed to conduct key anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in littoral waters. The Indian variants have a submerged weight of 3,027 tonnes, a submerged speed of 20 knots and submerged range of about 740 kilometres. The vessels are armed with 533mm torpedoes and up to 24 mines, in lieu of torpedoes. 
  • Kalvari (Scorpene) Class: The next generation of India's conventional attack submarines, the Kalvari Class, is based on the Naval Group Scorpene Class submarines. India plans to operate a fleet of six vessels, with three currently in service and three under construction. Designed with a submerged weight of 1,775 tonnes and submerged speed of 20 knots. Kalvari and her sister vessels have an operational range of 1,020 kilometres submerged and are armed with 18 533mm torpedoes, SM 39 Exocet anti-ship missiles or 30 mines in place of torpedoes.  

Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN): 

  • Arihant Class: India's first locally designed and built nuclear submarines, the Arihant and her three sisters will provide the sea-based leg of India's nuclear deterrent force. The 6,000-tonne vessels have a submerged speed of 24 knots and are armed with 12 K15 submarine launch ballistic missiles or four K-4 missiles. Additionally, Arihant and her sisters carry approximately 30 533mm torpedoes, cruise missiles or mines. 

Indonesian Navy: Indonesia operates a relatively small submarine fleet designed largely for maritime patrol and littoral interdiction across the Indonesian Archipelago. 

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • Nagapasa and Cakra Class: Indonesia operates five improved versions of the South Korean Chang Bogo Class submarines, based on the HDW Type 209 submarine. The three vessels displace between 1,200 and 1,440 tonnes, have a top submerged speed of 21.5 knots and are armed with 14 533mm torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Indonesia has long sought an improved submarine capability with discussions around the procurement of Kilo Class submarines from Russia under serious negotiation dating as far back as 2013-14. The nation is currently aiming to operate a fleet of 10-12 submarines. Naval Group has used the Indo Defence 2018 Expo to showcase their Scorpene Class submarines to meet the Indonesian requirement.   

Singapore Navy: Singapore's strategic location at the end of the Strait of Malacca requires a robust submarine capability to ensure maritime integrity, interception and submarine deterrent capability. As a result, the nation has invested heavily in developing a potent submarine capability to secure the vital sea-lines of communication (SLOC). 

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • Challenger Class: The Kockums-designed Challenger Class provided Singapore with their first submarine capability when first introduced in 1995. The Challenger Class are based upon the Swedish Sjoormen Class submarines, which were retired from the Swedish Navy and upgraded prior to transfer to the Singaporean Navy in the mid-1990s. The Challenger Class have a submerged weight of 1,400 tonnes and submerged speed of 20 knots. The remaining two vessels are armed with both 533mm and 400mm torpedoes and were upgraded in the early-2000s to extend the life and ability to operate in tropical environments.
  • Archer Class: These air independent propulsion (AIP) powered submarines are based upon the Swedish Vastergotland Class vessels, which also served as the basis for Australia's Collins Class submarines. Following an extensive modernisation process in the mid-2000s, both Archer and Swordsman have a submerged weight of 1,500 tonnes and submerged speed of 15 knots. The Archer Class are armed with both 533mm and 400mm torpedoes. 
  • Type 218SG Class: The next generation of Singapore's submarine fleet, the four 218SG vessels will provide a quantum leap in capability offered to the Singaporean Navy. Based on the HDW designed Type 216 vessels presented to Australia as part of the SEA 1000 program, the 218SG vessels will be AIP powered, with a submerged weight of 2,200 tonnes and submerged speed in excess of 15 knots. The first steel was cut in January of 2018, with the four vessels projected to be delivered from 2021 onwards.    

Malaysian Navy: Malaysia, like Singapore, has an important geo-strategic location, providing the nation's two submarines with ready access to both the Indian Ocean and the hotly contested South China Sea. As a result of this, the Malaysian government embarked on a modernisation program for its submarine fleet.  

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • Scorpene Class: The Naval Group Scorpene Class submarines were originally ordered in 2002 have a submerged weight of between 1,565 and 1,870 tonnes and a submerged speed of 20 knots. The vessels are armed with 18 533mm Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes or SM 39 Exocet anti-ship missiles, or 30 mines in place of the typical torpedo armament. 

Vietnam People's Navy: As with Singapore and Malaysia, Vietnam's proximity to the South China Sea has seen the nation invest heavily in a credible, highly capable submarine force to counter rising concerns about the growing strength of the Chinese Navy in particular. 

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • Kilo Class: Vietnam operates a fleet of six, improved Project 636MV variant Russian-designed Kilo Class conventional attack submarines. Like their Russian, Chinese and Indian counterparts, the Vietnamese Kilos are designed to conduct key anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in littoral waters. The vessels have a submerged weight of between 3,000 and 3,950 tonnes, a submerged speed of 20 knots and submerged range of about 740 kilometres. The vessels are armed with 533mm torpedoes and up to 24 mines, in lieu of torpedoes.  

Royal Thai Navy: Thailand's geo-strategic location on the edge of both the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea places growing importance on the development of a credible strategic submarine force, capable of protecting the region's littoral and broader maritime domain in the face of mounting regional submarine competition. 

Attack Submarines (SSK): 

  • S26T (Type 039A) Class: The Thai government signed a contract in May 2017 with China to supply three export variant S26T, Type 039A conventional submarines. Like their Chinese counterparts, the Thai submarines are designed to conduct the anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations in littoral waters. The vessels have a submerged weight of 2,250 tonnes, with a top speed of 22 knots and are capable of carrying 18 533mm torpedoes, the YJ-8 anti-ship cruise missile or 36 naval mines.

It is clear that Australia's region is going to be increasingly congested as both great and emerging powers continue to invest heavily in their own submarine capabilities. The growing proliferation of steadily more capable platforms across the nation's northern approaches presents significant challenges for the nation's existing Collins Class submarines in the short-to-medium term and the future submarine force of the future. 

Having reviewed the submarine forces now assembling throughout the region, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, or get in touch with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Dive! Dive! The emerging submarine power players
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