Bangladesh Navy’s anti-submarine warfare capability at a glance22nd April 2020
Anti-submarine warfare is the most complex among all types of naval operations. It requires highly skilled manpower, warships, submarines and aircraft besides well-established onshore facilities.
Generally speaking, such sophisticated operations are costly and in fact the domain of navies of the developed countries whereas submarines are now being operated by developing countries in South America, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East in growing numbers.
Closer to home in Bangladesh’s periphery the mighty Indian Navy operates a mix of Russian and German submarines. It has also transferred a Kilo-class submarine meant sold by India as a response to China selling submarines to the Bangladesh Navy.
The pair of Ming class (Type 035G) diesel-electric powered submarines of the Bangladesh Navy reached full operational capability in recent months. The Bangladeshi submariners are capable of operating the submarines without the assistance of Chinese instructors and have performed several missions illustrating their aptitude as skilled submariners.
Naval Headquarters have informed the submarine fleet will participate in upcoming naval exercises scheduled at the end of 2020.
The submarines will add a new dimension to the Bangladesh Navy’s operations however its capabilities are still subpar in comparison to those of the Pakistan Navy.
The force faced a massive shortage in modern anti-submarine warfare capable platforms as very few warships in the fleet inventory are equipped with sonar systems and anti-submarine torpedoes. There are however more warships and patrol craft fitted with rocket depth charge launchers, though the effectiveness of such short-range weapons are questionable.
India has not only sold the Myanmar Navy submarines but also provided it with anti-submarine torpedoes such as the Sheyna, which has an operation range of 19 km and a depth of 540 m. The Indian’s also supplied Myanmar Navy frigates with Hull Mounted Sonar Advanced (HUMSA). Interestingly the same was rejected by the Bangladesh Navy, which opted for Western and Chinese hull-mounted sonar solutions instead. The Chinese systems are mostly based on French or Russian design.
Currently BNS Bangabandhu is the only frigate in the entire fleet of the Bangladesh to feature a comprehensive ant-submarine warfare capability. It is only limited by the lack of anti-submarine warfare helicopters. The rest of the frigates and surface combatants lack anti-submarine warfare torpedoes except the pair of indigenously built Durgam class ASW LPC’s built by the Khulna Shipyard and commissioned in November 2017.
The Navy’s nascent aviation arm is yet to be equipped with any dedicated anti-submarine warfare aircraft or helicopters. There are plans to purchase armed maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters such as AW159 from Leonardo however those await funding.
With such shortages in equipment due to funding even a few enemy submarines can cause substantial damage to the Bangladesh Navy’s surface combatant fleet as well as the merchant marine in the Bay of Bengal.
It is imperative for the Bangladesh government to allocate further resources to build the capacity of the collective anti-submarine warfare forces. One may say the Navy’s surface fleet is three times more at risk as compared to the land and air force because of the tri-dimensional nature of maritime operations.
Starting immediately the government can provide resources to develop a fully resourced anti-submarine warfare school with participation of army and air force officers, which will allow planners from the sister services to realise the importance of anti-submarine warfare.
The government can also fund acquisition for a further pair of submarines every five years until at least eight submarines are operational in the fleet.
The commendable steps taken up by Khulna Shipyard to build ASW LPC’s should continue with orders for at least a dozen more anti-submarine warfare capable surface craft.
While future indigenously developed guided missile frigates will fulfil the gaps that exist across the presently held frigate force it will be imperative to ensure all those new guided missile frigates also receive dedicated multi-role ASW capable helicopters such as AW159 or MH-60R.
Whilst it is unlikely the government will government will fund purchase of Boeing P-8’s, the Navy can opt for less expensive P-72A ASW from Airbus/Leonardo. The design incorporates ATR 42 MP (Maritime Patrol) mission system with identical on-board equipment, but with additional anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. For the ASW and ASuW missions, it is armed with a pod-mounted machine gun, lightweight aerial torpedoes, anti-surface missiles, and depth charges. They are equipped with the Thales AMASCOS (Airborne Maritime Situation and Control System) surveillance system as well as electronic warfare and reconnaissance systems, enabling the type to perform maritime search and rescue duties.
Another cost-effective way to build up the ASW aircraft fleet would be to purchase second hand ATR-72 aircraft and have them refitted by systems integrators such as Germany-based Rheinland Air Service (RAS), which has already supplied two ATR-72 ASW aircraft to the Pakistan Navy.
The RAS 72 Sea Eagle is equipped with a long-range, active electronically scanned array (AESA) multimode radar, as well as electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) sensors to deliver aerial, maritime, and ground surveillance, according to RAS.
The platform also features an acoustic processing system, sonobuoy launchers, a broadband satellite communications system, an electronic support measures suite, a self-protection suite, and two weapon hard-points, enabling anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol capabilities. The PN’s two RAS 72 Sea Eagles also feature Aerodata’s mission management system, called AeroMission, for ASW. The aircraft can be used for ASW, maritime patrol, SAR and humanitarian operations as well.