January 27, 2009:
The Russian Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine) that was supposed to be delivered to India this year, is being delayed by difficulty in completing its sea trials. The problem is that Russians can't get enough qualified sailors and civilian technicians to serve on the boat. This is because, while undergoing sea trials last November, there was an accidental activation of the fire extinguisher system. This killed twenty sailors and civilians, and injured more than twenty. There were 208 people aboard the sub at the time, most of them navy and shipyard personnel there to closely monitor all aspects of the sub as it made its first dives and other maneuvers. The source of the fatal accident was poor design and construction of the safety systems on the sub. This accident led to sailors and shipyard technicians being fearful of going to sea on the boat. So the sea trials have been suspended, making the sub ineligible for transfer to the Indian Navy. A year ago, Indian officials acknowledged that it is leasing at least one Russian Akula II, which was to enter Indian service in 2009.
Late last year, Indian submarine sailors went to Vladivostok, the Russian city on the Pacific, near the naval base where the new Akula II boat is based. These Indian submariners are apparently the crew of the leased boat, that apparently will be called the INS Chakra (the same name used by the Charlie class Russian sub India leased from 1988-91. It's believed that the Indians have the option to back out if the sea trials don't work out. Traditionally, when a new ship losses lots of people during sea trials, it is regarded as "cursed" and unlucky. Sailors can be a superstitious, especially when there are dead bodies involved.
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. The Indian crew was, apparently, to take possession of the INS Chakra this Summer, and take it back to India. But until Russia can lift the curse from this boat, and get enough sailors on board to complete the sea trials, the Indians will have to wait. Talk around the Russian shipyard is that the trials will not resume until next year. Apparently the design of the Akula II is being reviewed, and modifications are planned.
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.