India gets Russian N-sub for 10 yrs
India will soon have a nuclear-powered attack submarine prowling deep under the seas. Away from the spotlight on nuclear power reactors, aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and MiG-29Ks, India and Russia quietly firmed up the 10-year lease of the K-152 Nerpa submarine during Russian PM Vladimir Putin’s visit here last week. With the final lease and training agreements now in place, India is dispatching a 50-member submarine crew, including 8-10 officers, to Russia to train on the Akula-II class nuclear submarine. The lease flows from a secretive agreement inked between New Delhi and Moscow in January 2004, with India funding part of Nerpa’s construction at Komsomolsk-on-Amur shipyard in Russia with an initial $650 million. Nerpa was to be inducted in Indian Navy as INS Chakra by mid-2008 but technical glitches delayed the process. Then, just as it began its sea trials in November 2008, 20 sailors were killed on it due to a toxic gas leak. After repairs, Nerpa is fully-operational now. India had also leased a ‘Charlie-I’ class Russian nuclear submarine from 1988 to 1991. That submarine, too, had been named INS Chakra but the expertise gained was steadily lost since India did not operate any other nuclear submarine thereafter. The over 12,000-tonne Nerpa in itself will, of course, not fulfil India’s long-cherished aim to have a credible nuclear weapon triad — the ability to fire nukes from land, air and sea. While Nerpa is nuclear-propelled, it will not come armed with its long-range nuclear-tipped missiles due to international treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime. But it will contribute in other ways. For one, it will train Indian sailors in the fine art of operating nuclear submarines. This will be useful when India’s own nuclear submarine, the over 6,000-tonne INS Arihant, becomes operational by 2011-2012. Two, Nerpa will be used to provide protection to INS Arihant, which will be the launch platform for nukes after it becomes operational. Armed as it will be with torpedoes and and 300-km Klub-S cruise missiles, Nerpa will be a silent, lethal hunter of enemy submarines and warships. Three, Nerpa will help India in its objective to have three SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with longrange missiles) and six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) in the long-term. Unlike conventional diesel-electric submarines which have to frequently surface to replenish oxygen to recharge their batteries, a nuclear-propelled submarine can operate underwater for virtually unlimited periods of time. Consequently, a SSBN or a ‘boomer’ is considered the most difficult-to-detectand-target platform for launching nuclear strikes.