Delivery of second Akula-class boat unlikely before 2020-21; Chakra’s lease runs out in 2022
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 16
The Indian Navy will not be deploying a second Russian nuclear attack submarine in addition to the INS Chakra --- a “sub surface nuclear” (SSN) vessel leased from Russia for ten years, from 2012-2022.
Instead, Business Standard learns from government sources in New Delhi that the second SSN that India is negotiating to lease from Russia will only replace the Chakra, when its 10-year lease expires.
Confirms a Russian official source from Moscow: “India would only get delivery of a second SSN by 2020-21. There might be some overlap with INS Chakra but, after its lease runs out in 2022, India will continue to operate just one Russian SSN.”
Russian media reports indicate that a half-built Akula-class submarine in Russia, tentatively named Irbis, could be completed and delivered to India by 2020-21. While the Chakra lease cost $970 million, the next submarine might be substantially costlier.
The defence ministry has been evaluating a replacement for the Chakra even before it came to India. Speaking to the media in April 2012, the day the Chakra joined the navy’s eastern fleet in Visakhapatnam, then Defence Minister AK Antony told the media: “There is a proposal (about a second nuclear submarine) but we have not taken a decision about that.”
Meanwhile, as part of the established Russia-India partnership in nuclear submarines, Russian experts continue supporting the Indian Navy’s indigenous SSN programme, which New Delhi plans to develop into four-six indigenous SSNs. The Chakra and its successor are intended to develop the expertise needed to operate these.
Negotiations on nuclear assets are top secret, which is why there was no mention of a replacement SSN after the 17th Russia-India annual summit meeting in Goa last week between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin.
However, Indian officials say there are direct linkages between visible programmes, like India’s decision to buy four Russian stealth frigates; and the invisible “strategic programmes” like the lease of an SSN to replace the Chakra, and Russian cooperation in India’s SSN and SSBN programme.
Sources familiar with the “advanced technology vessel” (ATV) project, as the Arihant development programme was called, tell Business Standard that Russian experts played a significant role in helping India build the “shell” for the indigenously developed nuclear reactor, and in installing the reactor in the submarine.
Installing a reactor is a precision task that is vital for a nuclear submarine’s stealth. It involves segregating all moving or noisy reactor parts from the hull by mounting the reactor on a “raft” and using “noise suppression systems”.
Nuclear submarines --- both SSNs and SSBNs --- have far greater endurance than conventional submarines. When submerged, a conventional (diesel-electric) vessel runs on power supplied by its on-board electric batteries. When these are drained, typically in 8-72 hours depending upon how fast it moves, the submarine must surface to run its diesel generators and recharge its batteries. In so doing, it is vulnerable to detection and attack by enemy aircraft, surface ships and submarines.
A nuclear submarine, in contrast, can remain submerged indefinitely since generating nuclear power does not require air.
This allows it to silently cover long distances underwater, slip undetected into a patrol area; and lurk in wait for enemy shipping, which it can destroy with torpedoes or missiles before escaping, still submerged.
The Indian Navy currently faces a dire shortage of submarines. Against an assessed requirement of 24 conventional submarines, it deploys just 13. In addition, Mazagon Dock, Mumbai is building six Scorpene conventional submarines, which are slated to enter service between 2017-2020.
Due to India’s peculiar coastal hydrography, and its operational requirements, the navy requires both conventional and nuclear submarines. The smaller conventional vessels are needed for the Arabian Sea, which is too shallow in many places for larger nuclear boats. Simultaneously, the deeper Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, with their vast expanses, require SSNs to cover.