Thursday, February 12, 2009

'India's secret N-submarine project nearing completion'

In a boost to India's long-standing aim to have "a nuclear weapon triad", defence minister A K Antony on Wednesday said the secretive programme to construct indigenous nuclear submarines was on the verge of completion now.
"Things are in the final stage now in the ATV (advanced technology vessel) project. There were bottlenecks earlier...they are over now," said Antony, during the ongoing Aero India-2009 here.
The hush-hush ATV project, a euphemism for the three nuclear-powered submarines being constructed at the Visakhapatnam naval dockyard, has been dogged by a series of technical hiccups since it was formally launched as far back as 1983.
The main problem has revolved around the design of miniature PWRs (pressurised water reactors) and their containment plans for the submarine's propulsion system but sources said such technical problems are a thing of the past now, with a little help from countries like Russia and France.
Sources said there had been some delay in "launching" the first prototype of the nuclear-powered guided-missile attack submarine for sea trials but it would happen soon. Antony, on his part, said, "We will announce it when it is ready."
The Navy hopes to get the first such operational submarine by 2012 or so. Concurrently, DRDO is also working on the K-15 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which will later be integrated with the submarine.
In all, five ATVs are planned under the programme, whose cost is touching around Rs 14,000 crore now, by around 2025.
The entire aim behind the ATV programme is to have nuclear-powered submarines, armed with nuclear-tipped cruise or ballistic missiles, to ensure "credible" second-strike capabilities in consonance with India's "no-first use" nuclear doctrine.
Nuclear-powered submarines have higher speeds and can stay submerged much longer than conventional diesel-electric submarines -- which have to surface or snorkel frequently to get oxygen to recharge batteries -- and thereby provide a much more invulnerable launch pad for nuclear weapons.
Though India already has nuclear-capable aircraft and mobile land-based missiles like the 700-km Agni-I and 2,500-km Agni-II being inducted into the armed forces now, it's hoped the ATV project will finally provide it with the third leg of the nuclear triad.
India, of course, is also trying to sort out the remaining few hitches in leasing the K-152 Nerpa Akula-II class nuclear submarine from Russia for a 10-year period, as reported by TOI earlier.
India and Russia had secretly signed the deal for the Akula lease in January 2004, along with the $1.5 billion package deal for the refit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and 16 MiG-29K fighters to operate from it.
With the two nations now negotiating the around $2 billion jump in the Gorshkov contract, there is a feeling that Russia is trying to extract more money for the Akulalease also. "We will get the Akula since we have paid money for it. We will use it to train our sailors for the eventual ATVs," said a senior Navy officer.

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