Crowding Arabian Sea Waves

Three may be a crowd in the Arabian Sea.

Several outside powers are permanently based under its waves. But Iran and the Arab world are most uncomfortable with the presence of Israel’s three diesel submarines equipped with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles to their rear – and soon to be joined by another pair. Pakistani and Indian subs are also staring each down in their lairs far below the water’s surface.

Germany looks like finally agreeing to sell Israel another two Dolphin-class submarines by next spring at a cost of $350 million apiece – a snip compared with American’s Virginia-class nuclear powered boats at $2.1 billion. Berlin is not over-enamored with their being fitted with nuclear cruise missiles but will overcome its long resistance to the sale in the interests of a newly aggressive push to expand its defense exports

Of the original three, Germany picked up the tab for the first two and sold the third at a discount. The new pair of submarines, like the first three, will be built at the Kiel-based Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG, the world’s biggest builder of diesel submarines. The new boats are more advanced in that they will able to stay submerged for longer than the first Dolphins.

The new Israeli boats may have to share the ocean with six new Indian submarines.

The Indian government is still undecided about approving the purchase of six Scorpenes costing $2.5 billion from the French state-owned shipbuilder Naval Constructions Directorate. The deal has been approved by the defense and finance ministries in New Delhi. The security cabinet headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh must give the final okay.

On the plus side, there are only two or three places in the world to buy advanced diesel subs. Furthermore, under the draft contract, the French manufacturers would transfer the technology to India which would then build the 1,600-ton submarines itself. Finally, although diesel-powered, the vessels could be adapted to fit a nuclear power unit in line with India’s long-term planning.

But there are also arguments against.

France has constructed three Agosta-class subs for India’s nuclear rival Pakistan and will most likely accede to Islamabad’s request for more of the same.

India’s policy planners are wary of being burdened by a technological mishmash ensuing from the introduction of sophisticated military products from Europe on top of American, Russian and Israeli weaponry.

Already, Indian subs of British-Russian manufacture sail keel to keel with Israel subs made in Germany against Pakistani vessels made in France and Iranian subs made in China. The Arabian Sea has acquired a truly global slant.

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