Skip to comments.India's Secret Nuke Submarine Deal with Russia
Posted on 08/28/2007 7:22:10 AM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
INDIA : The Secret Nuke Sub Deal
India Today: DEFENCE: NUCLEAR SUBMARINE The Secret Nuke Sub Deal
By Sandeep Unnithan
On June 15, 2008, the Indian Navy will commission the INS Chakra, a 12,000-tonne Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarine, from the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok. The submarine, which is being built at a shipyard in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, marks the fruition of a $650-million (Rs 2,600 crore) secret deal signed by the NDA government three-and-a-half years ago, which said that India would finance the construction of an unfinished Russian nuclear submarine hull and then lease it for 10 years. The impending acquisition of the Chakra gives India the long-awaited third leg of the nuclear triadthe others being air and land-based nuclear delivery platformswidely regarded as the most survivable mode of launching nuclear weapons.
It is the most crucial strategic capability we are acquiring after testing nuclear weapons in 1998, says strategic analyst Bharat Karnad. Manned by a specially trained Indian crew, the Chakranamed after Krishnas weaponwill undertake a 15-day passage through the South China Sea, with no port calls, to India, where it will be formally inducted as a component of Indias strategic forces command.
Nuclear submarines use a miniature nuclear reactor, to produce steam, which drives a turbine. Capable of tremendous underwater speed and almost unlimited endurance, they are in fact limited only by the endurance of their crew. The Akula-II submarines speed of 35 knots and diving depth of 600 m is twice that of a conventionally powered submarine. However, a nuclear submarine is much more than just a submarine with a nuclear reactor, says Rear Admiral (retired) Raja Menon. It is the arbiter of power at sea, he adds.
Armed with indigenously built nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of over 1,000 km, the Chakra will be a potent addition to Indias strategic arsenal. A need which was felt after the Pokhran tests of 1998 when India enunciated a nuclear doctrine of no first use and nuclear forces based on a triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missiles and sea-based assets, to ensure that its nuclear deterrent was effective, enduring, diverse, flexible, and responsive to the requirements of credible minimum deterrence. While the road and rail-mobile Agni series missiles afforded the land-based legs of the triad, the focus quickly shifted on inducting submarines armed with nuclear weapons. Indias Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), a euphemism for a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) project initiated in the 1970s was still a decade from induction.
Hence talks on leasing two Akula class submarineslater reduced to onewere begun by the Vajpayee government after the Kargil War in 1999. Code-named Project (I), it was part of the three key naval items on the list of the Indian-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation initiated by the government in 2002. The other two items on the list were the purchase of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, and the lease of four Tu-22M strategic bombers (which has since been cancelled). Funds for the submarine lease were allotted by the Central Government, but never publicised. The deal for leasing the submarine was signed quietly in Delhi in January 2004 along with the Gorshkov deal, during Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanovs visit.
Yet for years, the government denied plans of leasing nuclear submarines. Ivanov, too, consistently denied reports of the lease, but in 2005, the Russian daily Kommersant noted that the unaccounted for spike in the countrys arms export earnings indicated that the lease had been paid up.
The Chakra will soon be joined by the indigenous ATV, under construction at a secret dry dock in Visakhapatnam. Construction of the 5,000-tonne ATV, a modified version of the Russian Charlie-II class is now nearly complete, and will be launched for sea trials next year. It will be inducted into the Indian Navy in 2009. Armed with indigenously developed ballistic missiles (future variants with the three-stage 5000-km range Agni 3), the ATV will mark Indias entry into the SSBN club and will mean the fruition of a long-delayed strategic programme.
The delays seem to have moved to the Russian side. Originally slated for induction on August 15 this year, the delivery of the Chakra has been delayed by 10 months for the same reasons that delayed the Gorshkov refit in Russia. Earlier this year, Russia escalated the cost of the N sub lease by $135 million (Rs 540 crore), which was rejected by the Indian Defence Ministry delegation. Ministry officials confirmed the advanced stage of both the lease and the projects and said that the Government was debating on when to bring both the programmes out of the closet.
The lease of the Akula-II submarineoriginally slated for the cash-strapped Russian Navy and on which construction had ceased at the Amur shipyard in the 1990swill make India the worlds sixth power to operate a nuclear submarine. It has only one precedentthe three-year transfer of a Charlie-I class nuclear attack submarine (also named Chakra) from the Soviet Union in January 1988, which took advantage of a loophole in international treaties. The treaties prohibit the sale of nuclear submarines but do not object to a lease, provided the submarines are not equipped with nuclear weapons or missiles with a range of over 300 km. The Chakra will be stripped of its inventory of strategic cruise missiles with a range of 3,000 km, as these violate the Missile Technology Control Regime, but India will not be prevented from equipping the submarine with its own missiles.
The present 10-year leasewhich may be extended laterdiffers from that of the Charlie-I class submarine in some important aspects. While the latters reactor controls and missile launch area were manned by Soviet naval personnel, the new Chakra will be manned entirely by an Indian crew, which is to leave for Vladivostok in December. Nearly 300 Indian naval personnel, or three sets of crews, have already been trained to man the submarine at a specially constructed facility in Sosnovy Bor, a small town near St Petersburg in Russia. All personnel returned after completion of training this year.
Future ATV crews will also be trained on the Chakra, which offers a valuable training platform. A leased submarine gives you a tremendous headstart in training crews, says Menon. It takes several years to produce a crew of nuclear submarine experts like hydroplane operators and watch keeping officers. The new Chakra will make up for the expertise that was lost when the Charlie-I submarine was returned to the former Soviet Union but also add a strategic platform into Indias inventory.
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