Submarines: A Nod And A Wink


October 17,2008:  At a recent press conference, the Russian Defense Minister recently refused to answer a question about the long rumored Indian leasing of a Russian nuclear submarine. Last December, Indian officials officially acknowledged that it is leasing at least one Russian Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine), which will enter Indian service in 2009. That sub is currently undergoing trials in the Pacific ocean. It's unclear why the Russians are being coy about all this.

Before last Decembers announcement, 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 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 recently built, and each requires a crew of 51 highly trained sailors. The Indian money enabled Russia to complete construction on at least two Akulas. These boats 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 in a year or two, 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) class. 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 3-5 years. In the late 1980s, India leased a Russian nuclear sub for three years, providing Indian sailors with an opportunity to become very familiar with the technology.

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 entered service two years ago, 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 leased from Russia. This boat will be ready for sea trails next 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.




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