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by James Dunnigan
May 20, 2008
India is building a new naval base, for all its submarines, on its east coast (near the port of Vishakaptanam in Andhra Pradesh state, midway between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.) The Rambilli naval base will be home for Indias new nuclear subs, and will have the nuclear facilities necessary for maintaining these boats. The base will be completed in three years, and India's first nuclear sub is expected to be ready for service by then.
It was only four months ago that India officially acknowledged it was leasing at least one Russian Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine), which will enter Indian service next year. Persistent rumors had it that, three years ago, India arranged to lease two Akula IIs, for several million dollars a month per sub. It has apparently taken this long to train the crews. There were hundreds of Indian sailors and government officials involved in this operation, and, while tidbits of information kept leaking out, the government refused comment. The 7,000 ton Akula IIs are now completed, and have a crew of 51.
The Indian money enabled Russia to complete construction on at least two Akulas that were less than half finished at the end of the Cold War. This was another aftereffect of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Several major shipbuilding projects were basically put on hold (which still cost a lot of money), in the hopes that something would turn up. In this case, it was Indians with lots of cash.
India also expects to complete construction of its own nuclear sub design by next year, and begin sea trials and tests. This boat is based on Russian technology, but is basically Indian designed and built. The Russian Akula will basically serve as a training boat for India's new nuclear submarine force.
The new Indian SSN is called the ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel). There are to be five boats in the class, assuming that the first one works well. That first ATV SSN (nuclear attack sub) is not expected to enter service for at least another three or more years. The ATVs are being built at a shipyard near the new Rambilli naval base.
The ATV will be a 5,000 ton boat, and comparisons are being made to the new Chinese 093 (Shang) class, which is a 6,000 ton boat that just entered service last year, after more than a decade of construction. That was China's second class of SSNs. The first, the Han class, was a disaster. India is trying to learn from Chinas mistakes. That's one reason the ATV project has been kept so secret. Another reason for the secrecy was that so much of the ATV project involved developing a compact, light water reactor technology that would fit in a submarine. One of these Indian reactors is being installed in a 5,000 ton Charlie II class submarine that was purchased from Russia. This boat will be ready for sea trials this year. If that goes well, the reactor will be installed in the first ATV.
Once the ATV SSN is proven, a modified version will be built as a SSBN (ballistic missile carrying sub). This was how everyone else did it, including the Chinese. Get an SSN operational, then modify the design to include some SLBM launch tubes.