Bangladesh’s First Submarine Base: A Step towards Maritime Capacity Building

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Bangladesh has operationalised its first submarine base with modern basin facilities for the Navy at Pekua of Cox’s Bazar to offer secure jetty facilities for submarines and warships in the port. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the first submarine base of Bangladesh ‘BNS Sheikh Hasina’ at Pekua in Cox’s Bazar on March 20, 2023.

On the day, she joined the ceremonially built base at Pekua in Cox’s Bazar via a video conference from Ganobhaban. On March 3, 2017, the prime minister laid the cornerstone for the submarine facility, one of Bangladesh’s most notable navy diplomatic successes. 

The station, which cost USD 1.21 billion to construct, can house up to eight warships and six submarines simultaneously. The base’s location in the Bay of Bengal will enable the submarines to move quickly and safely in case of need. 

The administration headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has begun putting the ‘Forces Goal-2030’ into practice since taking office in 2009. 

“We believe in that principle that we do not want to fight with anyone. But each of our institutions is a symbol of independence and sovereignty, and we want them to excel in all fields,” the PM said. 

To turn the Navy into a modern and strong regional force, the government is taking and implementing realistic plans such as various infrastructural developments, incorporation of warships into the Navy, and strengthening the operational capacity of the existing ships. 

Besides, a smart navy is also needed for a smart Bangladesh in 2041, so the government is revamping the navy. With the growing geo-political significance and advent of new security threats, the submarine base is considered a remarkable step towards maritime capacity. 

A new chapter in maritime capability  

Bangabandhu enacted the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act in 1974 to establish Bangladesh’s rights in maritime areas, and the United Nations enacted this law in 1982. 

The Father of the Nation also raised the demand for establishing a naval headquarters in East Bengal in the historic six points. 

After 2009, the present government formulated the ‘Forces Goal 2030’ in line with Bangabandhu’s Defense Policy-1974 and has been implementing the goal of transforming the armed forces into modern and timely. 

In the last 14 years, 31 warships, including four frigates, six corvettes, four large patrol craft, five petrol craft, and two training ships, have been added to the Fleet of the Bangladesh Navy. The Navy was established as a three-dimensional force with two submarines attached in 2017. 

Two submarines, ‘BNS Navajatra’ and ‘BNS Joyjatra,’ were added to Bangladesh’s armada in November 2016, making the Bangladesh Navy a fully functional ‘three-dimensional’ force in line with the nation’s Military Objectives. The two Ming-class submarines are now docked aboard the ‘BNS Issa Khan’ at Chittagong, the Bangladeshi Navy’s main naval base. 

The Navy had a difficult time berthing in the Karnaphuli River, encircled by Chittagong Port, the busiest port in the nation, since port business had to be put on hold while the submarines were being moved. The submarines also required a unique berthing area and additional armour facilities to shield them from aerial attacks. 

Thus, the administration chose to enlist the construction of a submarine base to satisfy these needs. The latest submarine base is another new milestone for Bangladesh in military power.

Strategic significance

The long-running maritime border dispute between Bangladesh and its neighbours India and Myanmar has been resolved by an international tribunal, allowing Dhaka to call for bids from international companies to search for oil in the Bay. 

The amicable resolution of maritime disputes has guaranteed the nation’s sovereignty over 111,631 square kilometres of the sea or nearly all of its landmass. Hence, Bangladesh is expanding its Navy’s capabilities, so it can play a bigger part in protecting the nation’s extensive marine regions, which are abundant in natural resources, combating human trafficking and smuggling, assuring the safety of fishermen, and safeguarding the passage of commerce ships. 

The presence of the submarine station would also enhance Bangladesh’s ability to project its capabilities, showcasing its naval might and aptitude for utilising cutting-edge technology. Building the submarine station will improve Bangladesh’s defence capabilities and increase its naval influence. Submarines will increase national security and sovereignty by acting as a deterrence to potential aggressors.

Enhance blue economy

The Prime Minister praised the newly opened naval installation as an ‘ultra-modern submarine base’ and described the occasion as a proud chapter in the history of the Bangladeshi navy. Establishing this site is predicted to positively affect the Blue Economy, unconventional security, defence, naval modernisation, capacity projection, and interregional cooperation. 

In the submarine base in the seashore city, two submarines and a support vessel may dock. 

Bangladesh’s Blue Economy, which significantly boosts the country’s economy, is highly relied upon. Nevertheless, the issue of piracy in the area and a lack of marine security have hampered the growth of this business. 

The submarine facility will help Bangladesh improve the protection of its maritime resources and promote its Blue Economy. With a larger naval presence, Bangladesh can better monitor its coastal waterways and deter illegal activities like piracy and smuggling.

Greater role in regional integration 

By establishing the submarine base, regional cooperation would be enhanced. Bangladesh can work with its neighbours to enhance maritime security, protect marine resources, and fend off unusual security challenges. 

The station might be the hub for coordinated exercises and training involving other local fleets, promoting tighter regional cooperation. 

Bangladesh will be better equipped to safeguard its maritime boundaries and combat less prevalent security issues like piracy, smuggling, and human trafficking by constructing a submarine station. The facility will also help Bangladesh respond more successfully to local natural catastrophes like cyclones, floods, and tsunamis.

Bangladesh may anticipate a safer and wealthier future thanks to the construction of this new facility, which will provide the country with a strong naval presence to defend its interests and demonstrate its capabilities in the region. 

At a crucial time for the Bangladeshi Navy, the construction of this submarine station marks the beginning of a new era for Bangladesh’s maritime capabilities.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Financial Express [Link]