Why India could lease a second nuclear attack submarine from Russia
New Delhi signed a $ 3 billion lease with Moscow in 2019 for the Chakra-3 submarine. But with the growing Chinese naval presence and delays in its own nuclear submarine project, India needs as many submarines as it can get.
Russian Navy Akula-powered attack submarine
Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit New Delhi later this year for his first in-person summit meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the start of the pandemic. The two countries are close strategic partners and maintain a thriving defense partnership. India has signed or is negotiating defense deals with Russia worth over $ 15 billion (1.09 lakh crore). The agreements include those covering front-line military equipment, from long-range missiles to fighter jets and assault rifles, to modernize its armed forces.
But it is the prospect of India renting a second nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) – which the two sides have opened discussions about – that is intriguing. Indeed, India is already hoping to integrate a Russian SSN into its fleet by 2026. India reached a $ 3 billion (Rs 22,000 crore) agreement with Russia in 2019 to modernize and upgrade the “Bratsk”, an Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. – now called “Chakra-3”.
SSNs are true submarines in that they can stay and operate underwater almost indefinitely; their endurance is only limited by the crew’s food supply. They are also equipped with a range of tactical weapons, such as torpedoes, anti-ship cruise missiles, and land attack cruise missiles. They are part of battle groups centered around aircraft carriers and are capable of independently projecting power into highly contested enemy waters and performing missile launch submarine (SSBN) escort missions.
The acquisition of a second SSN will allow the navy to operate two independent naval air groups, centered around the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, each with an SSN. (INSVikrant is currently in sea trials and will join the Navy later next year.) The two SSNs may also perform escort duties for the Indian fleet of four Arihant-class SSBNs, all of which will be in service by the end of of this decade.
India leased its first SSN from the former Soviet Union between 1987 and 1991. In the mid-1990s, then navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat resumed discussions to lease two nuclear submarines to Russia. This was reduced to a single unit when the intergovernmental agreement was finally signed in the early 2000s.
Now, almost two decades later, the Navy appears to be reverting to its original plan to hire two SSNs. Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh reportedly raised the subject of renting another SSN with his Russian counterparts during his three-day visit to Russia in late July. Russia has indicated its willingness to refurbish and lease one or more of its old Akula-class SSNs. The Akula was the best and most famous SSN in the former Soviet Union. Fifteen or more of these ships were under construction or in service when the Soviet Union broke up three decades ago. And while Russia is replacing its Akula with the new “Yasen” class, it still has nine Akula in service. Several of them are either under construction or in a semi-finished state, which will allow the Indian Navy to complete them according to its own needs. It will only take six years or less for Russia to renovate and modernize another SSN. The Navy’s eagerness to acquire submarines quickly is linked to a perilous drop in its submarine capabilities at a time when China embarked on the greatest naval modernization of any nation since the Cold War.
The Navy has forecast a need for six SSNs but has none at this time. It will be more than a decade before the first of its six locally designed and built SSN Project 76s join the fleet. Even the conventional submarine arm is severely handicapped. Most of the Navy’s fleet of 15 conventional submarines are over 30 years old, which is nearing the end of their lifespan. They are being refitted to extend their lifespan in Indian and Russian shipyards. An ambitious 75I project of Rs 45,000 crore to locally build six large conventional submarines, which can operate near sea choke points on Indonesian islands, is over 15 years overdue and will not deliver the first submarine before 2030.
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