Sunday, July 26, 2009

India's first nuclear submarine launched; historic achievement, says PM

The wife of the Manmohan Sing breaks a coconut on the hull of the submarine India Sunday joined a select group of five nations with the launching here of the country's first indigenously designed and built nuclear-powered attack submarine, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as a 'historic milestone' in the country's defence preparedness.

The prime minister's wife Gursharan Kaur did the honours of launching the submarine - INS Arihant - at a function here.

Manmohan Singh, speaking at the event, assured that the nuclear submarine was not developed with 'aggressive designs' or to 'threaten anyone', but it was necessary to take all measures to safeguard the country and keep pace with technological advancements in the world.

He also congratulated the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) Programme and the people associated with it for designing and building the nuclear submarine, which he said was a reflection of the 'immense technical expertise' and the strength of the research and development organisations in the country.

'Today we join a select group of five nations who possess the capability to build a nuclear powered submarine,' the prime minister said. The other countries are the US, Russia, China, France and Britain.

'The construction of a submarine is a highly demanding task by itself. For the country to develop its first nuclear submarine is a special achievement.

'I congratulate the Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV) Programme and all personnel associated with it for achieving a historic milestone in the country's defence preparedness. Today's launch is a reflection of the immense technical expertise that exists in our country and the strength of our research and development organisations,' the prime minister said.

'We do not have any aggressive designs nor do we seek to threaten anyone. We seek an external environment in our region and beyond that is conducive to our peaceful development and the protection of our value systems.

'Nevertheless it is incumbent upon us to take all measures necessary to safeguard our country and to keep pace with technological advancements worldwide. It has rightly been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,' he added.

The submarine will be commissioned in the Indian Navy after extensive outfitting and sea trials. It is the first of three such vessels to be built in the country and marks a quantum leap in India's shipbuilding capabilities.

He also said the government was 'fully committed to ensuring the defence of our national interests and the protection of our territorial integrity'. 'We will continue to render all support to the constant modernization of our armed forces and to ensuring that they remain at the cutting edge of technology.'

July 26 is annually commemorated as Kargil Victory Day to mark the Indian Army's success in pushing back Pakistani raiders who had occupied the border area in Jammu and Kashmir in 1999 that led to a military conflict in which at least 500 Indians soldiers died.

Indian Navy will also get a Russian-built Akula class nuclear submarine INS Chakra, expected to be commissioned by this year-end.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

India joins elite nuclear sub club

The dream of over a quarter of a century will be fulfilled today when Ms Gursharan Kaur, wife of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, breaks the coconut on the hull of India’s first indigenously constructed nuclear- propelled ballistic missile submarine — called a boomer in popular parlance — at a super- secret Naval base in Visakhapatnam.

At that moment, the 112- metre long black marine monster, now named Arihant ( destroyer of the enemy), will be pulled out of its lair — a covered dry dock, nearly halfa- kilometre long and 50 metre deep — where it has been conceived and grown. The building, called the Ship Building Centre at INS Virbhau, the Navy’s base in Vizag, is at the very end of the harbour.

The Indian Navy and the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO) have expended a great deal of treasure and sweat to reach this point. A year from now, after harbour and sea trials, the Arihant, with a complement of 23 officers and 72 sailors, will join the naval fleet.

What is so special about a boomer? Everything, if you see it from the point of view of the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Because of India’s “ no first use” pledge, our weapons must survive a first strike for retaliation.

So the Arihant’s primary weapon is stealth. It can lurk in ocean depths of half a kilometre and more and fire the Sagarika from under the sea. The key lies in its nuclear propulsion. The nuclear reactor of the sub generates heat to turn water into steam in a generator which, in turn, drives the turbine generators which supply the ship with electricity and drive the main propulsion turbines and propeller. There is no stage which requires air or oxygen.

SUBMARINES can be detected by sonar, or sound ranging, and so not only has the Arihant’s propulsion system given a double shield, its outer hull is covered by thick rubber tiles studded with conical gaps that trap sound.

After the first trial of the steam cycle and turbines, the Arihant will be hooked up to the nuclear reactor. The reactor’s fuel rods are currently locked and sealed.

They will be unlocked and neutrons will be introduced to start up the 85 MW pressurised water reactor. The reactor will work continuously for anything up to 10 years till the fuel runs out.

Then it will be brought back to the dock, the reactor compartment will be cut open, new fuel rods inserted and resealed.

Arihant’s construction got underway in 1998 with Larsen & Toubro machining 13 sections of the hull at its plant in Hazira to a design provided by the Malakit design bureau of Russia. These were then taken in a barge to Vizag and outfitted with their respective equipment — missile launchers, combat information systems, torpedo tubes, ballast tanks, living spaces, sonars, steam generator and turbine and so on. Then they were welded into three distinct sections.

The first contained the sonar equipment, torpedo tubes and control systems. The second section comprised of the combat information systems and an array of electronic equipment, accommodation as well as the ballistic missile launchers. The third section, distinct and specially shielded, comprised of the reactor and the steam turbine and gearings.

Considering that India began its first project for the sub in the late 1970s, you could well ask why it has taken so much time.

The short answer is that we are not as advanced as we think we are when it comes to engineering, metallurgy, and nuclear science.

The first glimmer of this was visible when in the early 1980s the first project ran aground after spending some $ 4 million ( Rs 20 crore). The second project under the auspices of the DRDO worked on different assumptions, but even it has had a rocky ride.

The plan was for India to acquire the drawings of the Russian Charlie II submarine and fabricate it, and at the same time design its own 100 MW reactor. A new Advanced Technology Vessel programme was created. At the same time, in 1988, a Charlie II, renamed Chakra, was leased from the Soviet Union. The idea was to run it till we had made our own.

UNFORTUNATELY, the Soviet Union collapsed and there was no extension of the lease. By then we had created a number of facilities which included a special pier with a 60- tonne crane, radiation safety services, swimming dock, slipway and workshop, but the project remained in the doldrums.

This was the time, in the mid- 1990s, when the ATV organisation realised how much of a long haul it would be. Components and assemblies for nuclear- propelled submarines had to have a very high quality requirement, something the country lacked.

For obvious reasons, precision welding is one of the most important aspects of submarine construction.

More troubling was the fact that the reactor made by the Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Centre, Kalpakkam could not make grade. Once again the Russians helped, quietly.

They provided equipment for two VM- 5 pressurised water reactors, one of which was assembled and tested at Kalpakkam’s Prototype Testing Centre in 2004. The Russians have also been helping with the design of the Sagarika, the ballistic missile that will be the main weapon of the Arihant.

The big challenge for the engineers was to use the Charlie II design and modify it by adding one more compartment, the one that carried the ballistic missile tubes which increased its length by 10 m or so. But they managed this and earlier this year the reactor and propulsion unit was finally welded to the other two units. Many Indian companies have been involved. The uranium, enriched at around 20 per cent, has been provided by the Indian uranium enrichment facility at Ratnehalli, near Mysore.

India has another nuclear- propelled submarine en route in 2010, an Akula- class Russian attack submarine which differs from the Arihant which is a ballistic missile sub. Such subs are used to hunt down enemy submarines and ships. Curiously, no one seems to know who wants the Akula. The Navy brass insists it is not them. But the country is expected to spend $ 700 million ( Rs 350 crore) to lease it for a period of 10 years. But then this is what keeps the country’s defence purchases booming.

PM to launch indigenously-built nuclear-powered INS Arihant on 26 July 09

The Indian Navy is all set to join the global elite club tomorrow when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh formally launches the indigenously-built nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant at the Naval Dockyard of the Eastern Naval Command in Visakhapatnam.
Prime Minister will arrive at the ENC's airbase INS Dega in Visakhapatnam by a special IAF plane along with his wife at 11 am and drive straight to the Naval Dockyard to commission INS Arihant into the sea.
The 6000-tonne submarine will first be put on sea trials for two years before being commissioned into full service.
In the two years, the submarine will also undergo harbour trials of its nuclear reactor and other systems.
Tomorrow's launch of the submarine coincides with the "Vijay Diwas" marking India's triumph over Pakistani intruders in Kargil.

Monday, July 20, 2009

ISRO plans manned flights to space by 2015

ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair on Sunday said the technical glitch on India's first moon mission (which has been rectified later) would not affect the country's future space missions.
Asked if the problem would dampen India's future space missions especially when it is planning to send Chandrayaan-II, Nair said, "Not at all."
Star sensor, a critical instrument on board India's only satellite orbiting the moon, failed on May 16 due to overheating and cast doubts on completion of the two-year mission launched on October 22 last year.
In an interview to a TV channel, the ISRO chief said the organisation is planning to send the first manned flight around 2015.
"There would be two men in human capsule on a seven-day mission. It will be launched from Sriharikota," he said.
On sending an Indian to moon, Nair said, "At the moment we don't have such plan."

But he strongly favoured a manned mission to moon by India, saying the US and China have declared they would like to have their men on the lunar surface by 2020.
"I do not know whether we can afford to lagging behind in that," the ISRO chairman said.
"Superiority of a nation depends on technology. Space is where the highest level of technology is being demonstrated. Today, I can say we are on par with developed nations as far as technology is concerned," Nair said.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Indian Army Inducts DRDOs NBC Weapons Detection Vehicle

The Army has for the first time inducted a DRDO-built, low-cost vehicle to detect attacks on the country using nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons.
The indigenous vehicle, developed by DRDO’s five labs, will now be used in reconnaissance missions to detect nuclear radiations, and chemical or biological agents in the environment inside the country’s territory, DRDO officials said here on Sunday.
Based on a BMP-IIK Infantry Fighting Vehicle chassis, the vehicle would cost the Indian defence establishment a fourth of that of the imported varieties, saving the country’s precious foreign exchange, the officials said without giving details.
The BMP-IIK, which has a cross-country capability and adequate shield for the crew members, was fitted with nuclear, chemical, biological, meteorological and positional sensors for monitoring any contamination.
The vehicle would be used for demarcating the contaminated zones with a flag-marking system and samples of soil and water collected using an in-built scooping device.
It could also display and store NBC contamination data in its control console and transmit it to the Army’s Command Headquarters on request through Communication Link Controller and Star-V radio set.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

'Missile woman' to handle ambitious Agni-V project

It's indeed rocket science. And Tessy Thomas is going great guns at unravelling all its complexities. Though women and nuclear-capable

Tessy Thomas played a crucial role in the successful firing of the 3,500-km range Agni-III missile. (Agency Photo)
ballistic missiles usually don't go together, Thomas is systematically breaking all glass ceilings in the avowedly male bastion of `strategic weapons'.

Thomas has now been appointed the project director (mission) of India's most ambitious missile, Agni-V, with a strike range of 5,000-km, which is slated to be tested for the first time next year.

Thomas, 46, was made the project director of the new advanced version of the 2,500-km Agni-II missile last year after she played a crucial role in the successful firing of the 3,500-km range Agni-III missile as an associate project director, as reported by TOI earlier.

Now, she has added another feather to her cap by being assigned to Agni-V, the test-firing of which will propel India towards having potent ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capabilities, largely the preserve of the Big-5 countries till now.

Thomas, contacted by TOI on Tuesday, was reluctant to talk till she `had clearance from the top'. Overall Agni programme director, Avinash Chander, however, was full of praise for her. "She is one of the key members of the entire Agni programme,'' he said.

"The designer for the missile guidance systems, among other things, she is one of the most dedicated scientists in our team. She finds solutions to problems,'' he added.

A B.Tech from Thrissur Engineering College, Calicut, and M.Tech from Pune-based Defence Institute of Advanced Technologies, Thomas is an expert on `solid system propellants' which fuel the Agni missiles.

Based at the Advanced Systems Laboratory in Hyderabad, Thomas has been associated with the Agni programme for around two decades now. Her fascination for `rockets' began with the Apollo moon missions when she was in school at Alappuzha in Kerala.

The dream turned to reality when this `missile woman' was assigned to the Agni programme soon after joining DRDO in 1988 by the original `missile man', former President APJ Abdul Kalam. There are around 20 other women scientists working on the Agni programme but Thomas is the first to become a project director of an Agni system.

The work on the solid-fuelled Agni-V basically revolves around incorporating a third composite stage in the two-stage Agni-III, along with some advanced technologies like ring laser gyroscope and accelerator for navigation and guidance.

The endeavour is to ensure that Agni-V, for which the government has sanctioned around Rs 2,500 crore, is also a canister-launch missile system to ensure it has the requisite operational flexibility to be fired from any part of the country. It will be slightly short of true ICBMs, which have ranges in excess of 5,500 km, but enough to take care of existing `threat perceptions'.