India is building a nuclear submarine, a top Indian scientist has reportedly said, confirming long-running rumours of the secret naval project.
The former chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission made the surprise announcement in a speech over the weekend, the Press Trust of India news agency reported Sunday.
India has reportedly been trying to build its own nuclear submarine, code-named the Advanced Technology Vessel, since the 1970s, but has struggled to produce a suitable nuclear reactor. While the efforts have been widely reported, they have never before been publicly confirmed.
"Indian scientists and technologists are capable of making light water reactors and we are already constructing an LWR at Kalpakkam in south India for (the) submarine," PTI quoted P.K. Iyengar, the former Atomic Energy Commission chairman, as saying.
Light water reactors, which use ordinary water to sustain nuclear reactions, are typically used in nuclear-powered submarines because they are safer.
Iyengar declined to comment when reached at his Mumbai home Monday. The navy spokesman was also unavailable for comment.
Iyengar made the comments Saturday while speaking at a debate on the India-U.S. nuclear deal, PTI said.
Iyengar was arguing against the deal, in which the U.S. would send nuclear fuel and know-how to India for civilian nuclear projects, in return for India opening up its civilian nuclear plants to international inspection.
The scientist said there was no need for U.S. light water reactor technology because India already has this knowledge.
In 1988, India leased a Soviet Charlie-class nuclear submarine for three years, which it used as a training vessel for its sailors. The lease was not renewed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
India Today magazine, quoting unidentified sources, has reported that India's nuclear submarine will be ready for sea trials next year.
The submarine, a 5,000 ton modified version of the Russian Charlie-II class submarine, will be inducted into the Indian navy in 2009, the August report said, adding that it will be capable of launching nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.
As India's economic power has grown it has tried to match that by reshaping its armed forces into a modern military capable of projecting power well beyond its shores. It is also currently building an indigenous aircraft carrier.