China likely to supply Bangladesh’s next submarines

China likely to supply Bangladesh’s next submarines

The Bangladesh Navy is spending $1.26 billion on building the largest submarine base in the Bay of Bengal. The contract for constructing the comprehensive submarine base was awarded to Poly Technology Inc of China, which also incidentally supplied the Bangladesh Navy’s first pair of submarines.

Located in Pekua, Cox’s Bazar the submarine base is designed to be a training, operational, and support base equipped with state of the art simulators, MRO facilities, accommodation, and docking facilities.

Given the first two submarines were acquired for a paltry sum of only $200 million, it is clear the Navy acquired those as ‘training platforms’ to gather experience and develop operational level tactics suited to its area of operations.

The newly christened submarine base named BNS Sheikh Hasina, is to also become the home of three to four new submarines. The boats are likely to also be built in China, which has a very strong connection to the Bangladesh Navy.

Dhaka has been accused by New Delhi of purchasing 80% of its military hardware from China. Bangladesh’s large neighbour is afraid that an overwhelming Chinese military presence in Bangladesh’s armed forces will pose a threat to its national security.

On the other hand, in recent years the Sheikh Hasina-led government adopted a very liberal approach to acquiring arms for the military by sourcing those from mostly Europe, Russia, and Turkey. On one hand, it allays India’s constant fears about China and on the other Bangladesh’s military benefits from generally better military hardware from abroad. But China has come a long way since the bad old days of BNS Osman, a frigate of the Jianghu class, of which only one was acquired after the Bangladesh Navy discovered its deficiencies.

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Today major Chinese shipbuilders such as CSOC are working with Bangladesh Navy-owned shipyards for supplying the design and material packages. The Khulna Shipyard and Dockyard & Engineering Works built dozens of naval and coast guard vessels using Chinese-supplied packages. The vessels are not the latest in terms of technology but they are of proven, workable designs. The Bangladesh Navy has been satisfied with the craft and continues to have more built.

Dhaka may continue purchasing submarines and other major naval hardware from China in the coming years. Presently speculation is in favour of Chinese submarines such as the Type 039, which has scored export success with traditional clients such as Pakistan and Thailand. The fact that China has supplied submarines to every major navy neighbouring India is a statement in itself.

For now, at least, Beijing has the upper hand and the trust of its southern neighbours.

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