Submarines: India Seeks Another Russian Rental

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November 3, 2013: India is seeking to lease another Russian nuclear submarine. This was prompted by the recent loss of a Russian made Kilo sub to an accidental explosion and continuing delays in building new diesel-electric and nuclear subs in India. India has offered to supply the cash to complete an Akula class nuclear sub that Russia halted work on in the 1990s because of money shortages. Once completed (in about four years), the sub would enter Indian service. All this would cost India about a billion dollars. This would be the third time India leased a Russian nuclear sub.

Back in 2010, India finally received its second Russian sub, an Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine), the Nerpa, it had leased for ten years. The Nerpa was built for this Indian deal and finally completed its sea trials and was accepted into Russian service in late 2009. India was supposed to take it in 2008 but there have been many delays. The Indian crew for the Nerpa has been ready since 2008.

Most of the delay stems from an accident in late 2008 when, while undergoing sea trials, there was an accidental activation of the fire extinguisher system on the Nerpa. This killed 20 sailors and civilians and injured more than 20. 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 were delayed, even after repairs were made. The post-accident modifications on the Nerpa cost $65 million.

The Nerpa was renamed the INS Chakra (the same name used by the Charlie class Russian sub India leased from 1988-91) once India took possession. The lease arrangement has India paying $178,000 a day, for ten years, for use of the sub. The 7,000 ton Akula II requires a crew of 73 highly trained sailors.

It was Indian money that 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 and seeking to lease a sub.

Traditionally, when a new ship loses lots of people during sea trials it is regarded as "cursed" and unlucky. Sailors can be a bit superstitious, especially when there are dead bodies involved. So far India has not had any problems with this.

India has designed and built its own nuclear sub, but the first one is basically a development craft, and mass production of Indian designed nuclear subs is still at least five years away. The unlucky Russian sub will enable India to train more nuclear sub sailors in the meantime.

 

 


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