NEW DELHI: India’s long hunt for a nuclear submarine is finally over. But it will take the country another 10-12 months to get an operational nuclear weapon triad – the capability to fire nukes from land, air and sea.
India on Monday became the world’s sixth country after the US, Russia, France, the UK and China to operate nuclear-powered submarines when the Russian Akula-II class submarine `K-152 Nerpa’ was commissioned into Indian Navy as INS Chakra on a 10-year lease under a secretive almost $1-billion contract inked in 2004.
The 8,140-tonne INS Chakra, however, is not armed with long-range nuclear missiles, like theRussian SS-N-21 cruise missiles with an over 2,500-km range due to international non-proliferation treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime.
The Indian nuclear triad’s elusive underwater leg will only come when the homegrown nuclear submarine, the over 6,000-tonne INS Arihant equipped to carry a dozen K-15 (750-km) or four K-4 (3,500-km) ballistic missiles, becomes fully operational by early-2013. India has the land and air legs in the shape of the Agni series of missiles and fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Defence ministry sources said INS Chakra, commissioned at the Primorye region in far south-eastern Russia in a ceremony attended by top Indian and Russian officials, would soon set sail for India. It will be based at Visakhapatnam, next to where INS Arihant is slated to begin extensive sea trials in February-March after the ongoing harbour-acceptance trials.
Though it may not add to India’s nuclear deterrence posture, INS Chakra will give some much-needed muscle to India’s depleting underwater combat arm, which has only 14 ageing conventional submarines to brandish. India is in talks for the lease of another Akula-II class submarine from Russia, say sources.
Nuclear-powered submarines are stealthy since they can operate underwater at long ranges for months unlike diesel-electric submarines that need to surface every few days to get oxygen to recharge their batteries and have limited endurance due to fuel requirements.
INS Chakra will also be armed with the 300-km range Klub-S land-attack cruise missiles, which India deploys on its Kilo-class conventional submarines as well as other missiles and advanced torpedoes.
“It will be deadly `hunter-killer’ of enemy submarines and warships, as also provide effective protection to a fleet at sea. It can also provide cover to the nuclear-armed INS Arihant if required. With a dived speed of 30-35 knots, INS Chakra will be able to outrun any current Pakistani or Chinese submarine,” said a source.
The Navy will also use INS Chakra to train its sailors in the complex art of operating nuclear submarines. The `Charlie-I’ class nuclear submarine India had leased from Russia from 1988 to 1991 was also named INS Chakra but the expertise gained on it was steadily lost since the Navy did not operate any other nuclear submarine thereafter.
The new 10-year lease flows from the January 2004 agreement, with India funding a major part of Nerpa’s construction at Komsomolsk-on-Amur shipyard after Russia stopped it midway due to a fund crunch. It was slated for induction much earlier but technical glitches delayed the process, which included a toxic gas leak in November 2008 that killed 20 Russian sailors.