Nerpa and Arihant will augment Indian Navy’s declining submarine strength

SOURCE: India Strategic

Submarine is the weapon of the future. The submarine alone can assure command of the sea: Admiral George Cabanier.

“Submariners are a special brotherhood, either all come to the surface or no one does. On a submarine, the phrase, ‘all for one and one for all’, is not a slogan but a reality: Vice Admiral Rudolf Golosov: Russian Navy.
On 7th December, 2010 the Indian Naval ensign was hauled down at sunset for the last time on INS Vagli, the last of the eight Foxtrot class boats and she was solemnly decommissioned after 37 years of service and put to rest at Vishakapatnam. The submarine Order Of Battle (ORBAT) of the Indian Navy thus dwindled down to 14 on that day, from a high of 21 in the 1980s. Of the 14 submarines listed, 10 boats are aging as they have already been in service for over 23 years, and the 20 year INS Sindhukriti has been opened up at Hindustan Shipyard for conversion to fire the Klub missiles.
Two old submarines are planned for decommissioning in the next five years. The outlook is bleak, and the Indian Navy has not acquired a submarine for the last 14 years, except INS Sindhushastra, the first Klub firing Kilo submarine which joined in 2000, but the good news is the nuclear propelled 12,000 ton Nerpa, which is a refurbished Akula Type 971 will join the fleet shortly in 2011, and be possibly based at Vishakaptanam.
The Nerpa will come on a $ 900 million lease for 10 years from Russia.
Meanwhile, India’s own nuclear Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) INS Arihant is expected to join in 2011-12. It will be armed with 12 nuclear tipped 700km K-15 missiles, to form India’s TRIAD as indicated by the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma, at his customary Navy Week briefing on 2nd December, aptly under the banner, Glorious Past-Vibrant Future.
In any large navy, the submarine arm is a very critical and indispensable force. During the height of the cold war it was well articulated by Admiral HG Rickover, a submariner himself, and the longest serving legendary head of the American nuclear submarine department. He said: I believe it is the duty of every man serving on US Navy submarines to act as though the fate of the world depends on them.
Submarine power provides a nation combat and deterrence power, and submariners are baptized by fire as every man on the boat that dives, snorkels or surfaces has to be a professional, trained for any emergency and have a sociological attitude of mind to remain under water for prolonged periods and live in cramped quarters under great stress. No wonder submarines motto is ‘Run Deep Run Silent”.
In comparison with surface warships, submarines have small crews who are trained to multi task, while the cramped complexity of machinery and use of every inch of space, demands very exacting standards for maintenance.
The Indian Navy’s journey of operating a long line of 25 submarines, began on 8th December, 1967 with the commissioning of the first Foxtrot class boat INS Kalvari after long and grueling periods of training at Vladivostok. Since then India’s submarine arm has operated submarines with élan and professionalism accident free, a feat not many navies have equaled.
In those 44 long years, the Navy acquired and operated 8 Foxtrots, 10 Kilos and 4 HDW boats (two built in India) and ran the nuclear propelled INS Chakra from 1987 to 1991 on lease. The INS Chakra embarked a few safety Russian crew members, but soon the Indian Navy was certified by Admiral of the Fleet Sergei Gorshkov, a great friend of the Indian Navy, that it had the capability to operate all aspects of the complicated nuclear submarine. The Indian electrical officer who commissioned Chakra’s reactor was certified as an independent ‘Reactor in Charge’.
The Navy set up all the required nuclear support facilities in the congested inner Vishakapatnam harbour, which Admiral Gorshkov on his visit to India in 1974 had stressed would prove to be impractical in the long term as the entrance to the harbor is narrow and the commercial port would expand. He suggested a green field naval port at Bimlipatam. He was supported by Engineer Rear Admiral Daya Shankar who had joined the Ministry of Defence but funds were a constraint. Adm Gorshkov has been proved right, as nuclear submarines need pens, special segregated safe berthing facilities and the Navy is already planning for a green field naval port on the East Coast.
India had become the world’s 7th submarine building nation by 1985, but had to stop production after constructing two HDW- IKL-1500 boats due to the HDW investigations and an alleged scandal. India lost a valuable art, but a lot has been recouped by the ATV INS Arihant project at Vishakapatnam.
Much is kept classified however, as India has secrecy agreements with Russia, whose naval officers are assisting India in the project with critical equipment and direction. A submarine’s operational life hovers around 20 to 25 years as the steel begins to age. A single fissure in the hull can lead to catastrophe in a deep dive.
The government had approved the Navy’s 30-Year Two Line Submarine Building Plan as early as 1999, but it saw no movement till 2005 for the Scorpene construction line.
It is no surprise that the submarine strength of the Navy’s conventional submarine arm is set to fall to 8 or 10 by 2015 when the first Scorpene being constructed at Mazagon Docks is expected to enter service. Of the ten, only four or five can be expected to be operational for India’s vast region for patrols at any given time as the refits of the Kilo class submarines are carried out in Servodnisk Russia and one boat is there.
On 6th October 2005, French Ambassador in New Delhi Dominique Girard and Indian Ministry of Defence’s Additional Secretary (Acquisitions) D Banerjee signed the first of the long awaited 6 submarine $ 3.9 billion contract in the presence of the then Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash, with the now defunct company Armaris.
The licensed construction with 80 HLES high-yield steel for the pressure hull, which is the same as used for the French Navy’s nuclear submarines, commenced at the Mazagon Docks in December 2006, December 2007 and August 2008, respectively, and the contract called for the first submarine to be delivered in December 2012 and one each year thereafter through 2017. The HLES steel allows unlimited diving to more than 300m while offering greater freedom for tactical manoeuvers. The first, second and third submarines will be equipped with MBDA supplied Exocet missiles and Thales Subtics command and control suites. The decision for the torpedo has not been taken, and the WASS Blackshark is the favoured choice. However the building and delivery of the first French-designed Scorpene submarines being built at Mumbai by DCNS of France and Navantia of Spain has now been delayed to 2015.
On 18th August 2009, Defence Minister A K Antony told parliament that delays were expected “on account of some teething problems, absorption of technology and delays in augmentation of industrial infrastructure and procurement of purchased materials” by Mazagon Docks. He added that the “delay in the scheduled delivery of submarines is likely to have an impact on the envisaged submarine force levels.”
The Indian government has recently sanctioned an additional $ one billion for the Scorpene project, increasing the total cost to around $5 billion. The CCPA took time to clear the escalation and orders for engines and other imported equipment were then placed and the lead time for receipt of engines is around 24 to 30 months.
In the mean time, DCNS and Navantia have agreed to drop cooperation on the Scorpene conventional diesel-electric attack submarine and go their own ways in undersea warfare. DCNS has taken over sole rights to build and sell the Scorpenes, and has offered the Super Scorpene to the Indian Navy for its second line while Navantia has worked on its S-90 submarine with a combat system from Lockheed for India.
Mr Antony has assured that the government constantly reviews the security environment and looks at the latest and the best equipment to protect India’s maritime interests.
Meanwhile, Atlas Electronix is re-equipping the HDW-Type 1500 Shishumar class with modern weapon control suites. The Indian Navy hopes to order six more submarines from foreign builders, under the ‘Buy and Make In India’ at a cost of around $11 billion, but production is unlikely to begin soon, as the Requests for Proposals have not been issued.
There is a lobby that India should import two boats to augment the India Navy’s depleting strength, and build four in India and private shipyards Larsen & Toubro and Pipavav Shipyards have informed MOD of their desire to be allowed to bid.
Dr Manmohan Singh from his powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has tasked Mr V Krishnamurthy, a veteran technocrat who heads India’s National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC), to submit a report to assist the MOD in the final decisions. In the competition for the order are the designs tabled for collaboration in Indian yards by HDW with its 214, Spain’s S-90, DCNS’s Super Scorpene and a Russian Amur-Italian combine. There is talk that a sea launched BrahMos could form part of the weapon fit.
The good news is that the Indian Navy is set to induct the 12,000 ton nuclear Akula, or the Nerpa, in the first half of 2011. The submarine is now undergoing, ‘handing over preparations’ at Vladivostok. An advance party has witnessed the trials and the boat will possibly be named INS Chakra. The other good news is the Indian built INS Arihant will join in 2011-12 with capability to launch from under water the 700 km DRDO-built K-15 nuclear tipped missile to form India’s nuclear triad.
INS Arihant is presently berthed under a shed at the Ship Building Centre (SBC) near the Naval Dockyard in Vishakhapatnam and will undergo all the standard harbour and sea trials common to all nuclear submarines. The crew has been trained at the Kalpakkam training nuclear reactor and in Russia, and the large black pear shaped hull has reportedly completed the first of many trim dives alongside, an operation that requires very detailed trim calculations for the first of the class. This is a very critical operation for flooding and de-flooding the ballast tanks by the powerful pumps.
Like all the nuclear submarine building yards, SBC has all the facilities to produce external steam and power for the submarine. With external steam and power, a submarine’s propulsion, steering gear and associated systems, electronics and generators can be set to work and tested in the harbour trials.
When all the systems have been cleared by the Submarine Overseering Teams, the full ship’s complement joins the boat for very detailed safety and emergency training. This is a very critical part of the commissioning, and is overseen under directions by the specialist submarine Vice Admiral at the Naval Headquarters (NHQ) for nuclear safety. When all the harbour trials are completed, the 95mw nuclear reactor-powered Arihant, which has already been tested ashore, will go critical at low power and worked up to higher power to enable the hull to go to sea. When this happens, INS Arihant will report Underway on Nuclear Power, or words to that effect, marking a Red Letter Day in India’s history.
The next steps will include the many Part II sea trials on surface at various speeds, and when the confidence of the crew is made firm, the submarine will carry out its first shallow dive, going deeper progressively at various speeds. On return from every diving trial, many checks on the hull and reactor performance will be carried out by specialists and the final deep dive to maximum operating depth will culminate in the submarine getting on to Part III for weapon trials with a concurrent work up.
All this sounds simple but it is very time consuming and trying process. Only when all these steps are completed, INS Arihant will be commissioned.
Submarine accidents are rare but they do occur with considerable losses and for one reason or the other the Indian Navy has not been able to acquire a Deep Rescue Submarine Vessel (DSRV) but has relied on a diving support vessel with a decompression chamber, and more recently has financial arrangements with the US Navy which would fly in a DSRV and take it to the site of the accident, and mate with the submarine to enable rescue.
The Shishumar class boats have a circular bell which can accommodate eight and can be released to come up to the surface. The Kilo class have rescue diving suits. On 18th March, 2004, INS Sindhuraj achieved the first successful ‘underwater mating’ with a submarine rescue bell (SRB) and two officers transferred from the bottomed submarine to be lifted in to INS Nireekshak’s hyperbaric chamber to de be decompressed. The Indian Navy has sent out RFIs to acquire DSRVs and a tentative order had been contemplated on Ocean Works of Canada, a leading DSRV builder but it was not followed up. The Navy has also sent out RFIs for two large submarine support vessels to be built in an Indian yard and equipped with two imported DSRVs.
The submarine scene for the Indian Navy is looking bleak and expensive, till the submarines being built at MDL are delivered and the second line is ordered. It is essential that some steps are taken to acquire submarines from abroad as new greenfield submarine building projects in India may prove dilatory. The Scorpene project has proved to be more expensive but it is explained away by Government officials as “opportunity costs of indigenization”.
The nuclear submariners see the year 2012 as a game changing year when INS Arihant joins, and it is reported that two more ATVs are planned. The second hull will have four large long range K-4 nuclear tipped missiles and the third may have an additional plug for a total of eight K-4 missiles.
The author is a former Director Naval Operations (DNO) and Naval Intelligence (DNI).

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Posted by pilotpaul on Feb 8 2011. Filed under All News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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