Sunday, August 11, 2013

INS Arihanth - A Giant Stride for Nation

Arihant, which translates as the 'destroyer of enemies" from Sanskrit, now has a new "heart" to take the battle to enemy shores. The miniaturized atomic reactor on board India's first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihanth as "gone critical", in a big leap towards making the country's long-awaited "nuclear weapons triad" an operational reality.

Sources said the 83mw pressurized light-water reactor, fuelled by enriched uranium, achieved "criticality" late on Friday night after months of "checking and re-checking" of all the machinery, systems and sub-systems of the 6000-tonne submarine at the heavily-guarded ship-building centre at Visakhapatnam.

The green signal for the reactor to be "finally switched on" was apparently given by the top-secret meeting of the Nuclear Command Authority, chaired by PM Manmohan Singh and attended by Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) members, among others, on July 31.

On Saturday, congratulating the Navy, Department of Atomic Energy and DRDO for the milestone, the PM said it marked "a giant stride" towards enhancing the country's security. Only the Big-5 — the US, Russia, China, the UK and France - currently operate nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles.

To be followed by INS Aridhaman and another similar vessel already being constructed under India's "most secretive strategic project" for which over Rs 30,000-crore have already been sanctioned, INSArihant was so far being powered and tested in the harbour with high-pressure steam from the shore.

The umbilical chord has now being cut. With the submarine now powered by the self-sustained, fission reaction in the reactor fitted inside a containment chamber in the hull, it will eventually head for open waters for extensive "sea- acceptance trials" with a 95-member crew led by Captain Sanjay Mahendru.

"The pipelines in INS Arihant went through multiple sets of flushing and cleaning. The first step has been taken. Even if everything goes well, the submarine will still take a minimum of another 18 months to become fully-operational and go on deterrent patrols," said a source.

Another reality check is that the 110-metre-long and 11-metre broad INS Arihant will initially be armed with the K-15 ballistic missiles that have a strike range of just 750-km. They, too, will require testing during the extensive sea trials. They dwarf in comparison to the well over 5,000-km range missiles of the US, Russia and China. The Chinese JL-2 SLBM , for instance, has a 7,400-km strike range. But INS Arihant, which has four silos on its hump to carry a dozen K-15 or four of the under-development K-4 missiles (3,500-km range), is still critical for building India's "credible and survivable" nuclear weapons triad - the capability to fire nukes from land, air and sea - like the Big-5.

The first two legs of the triad - the rail and road-mobile Agni series of ballistic missiles and fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Mirage-2000s capable of delivering nuclear warheads - are already in place with the armed forces.

It has taken India more than quarter of a century to come close to achieving the most potent sea-leg of the triad. The capability to deploy submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) is crucial since India has a declared "no first-use policy" for nuclear weapons, and hence needs a robust second-strike capability. The country's nuclear doctrine, after all, itself lays down that "nuclear retaliation to a first strike will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage".

SLBMs provide the most effective and difficult-to-detect nuclear weapons since they are difficult for adversaries to take out in "a first or pre-emptive strike". Nuclear-powered submarines can operate underwater for virtually unlimited periods of time, limited only by the crew's mental health, food and other supplies, unlike conventional diesel-electric submarines that have to resurface every few days to get oxygen to re-charge their batteries. Consequently, even the US and Russia, under their strategic arms reduction treatises, are ensuring that over 60% of their nuclear weapons are retained as SLBMs.

Key highlights 

1970: India's hunt for a nuclear submarine began when Indira Gandhi asked BARCDRDO and others to build one. There was no progress for many years till the late-1990s, when the actual construction of the first hush-hush advanced technology vessel (ATV) began. 

2009: The first ATV, named INS Arihant (destroyer of enemies), launched into water on July 26 by flooding the dry dock at the shipbuilding centre at Visakhapatnam. Since then, it has undergone extensive harbour trials on shore-based high-pressure steam. 

2012: India inducted a nuclear-powered submarine, INS Chakra, last year on a 10-year lease from Russia, but it's not armed with nuclear-tipped missiles due to international non-proliferation treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime. 

2013: Arihant's reactor goes critical in the early hours of August 10. It will now head for sea-acceptance trials before becoming fully operational.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Eye on future, India mulls options for nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

 Nothing projects raw power like an aircraft carrier prowling on the high seas, capable of unleashing strike fighters against an adversary in a jiffy. A nuclear-powered carrier can make the punch even deadlier with much longer operational endurance.

With its first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) set to be "launched" at Cochin Shipyard on August 12, and sea trials of the first nuclear submarine INS Arihant to begin shortly after, India is now examining the possibility of having a nuclear-powered 65,000-tonne carrier in the future.

Navy vice-chief Vice Admiral RK Dhowan on Thursday said a "detailed study" was underway on the "size, type of aircraft and their launch and recovery systems, propulsion" and the like for theIAC-II project. "Yes, we are also considering nuclear propulsion. All options are being studied. No final decision has been taken," he said.

There are huge cost issues with nuclear-powered carriers, which can easily take upwards of $10 billion to build. The Royal British Navy is reverting to carriers propelled by gas turbines/diesel-electric systems from nuclear ones.

However, the US has 11 Nimitz-class "super-carriers" — each an over 94,000-tonne behemoth powered by two nuclear reactors and capable of carrying 80-90 fighters - to project power around the globe. China, too, is now looking at nuclear-powered carriers after inducting its first conventional carrier — the 65,000-tonne Liaoning — last September.

So, while Navy may want a nuclear-powered carrier, it will ultimately have to be a considered political decision. The force, however, is firm about its long-term plan to operate three carrier-battle groups (CBGs). "One carrier for each (western and eastern) seaboard and one in maintenance," said Vice Admiral Dhowan.

But, even two CBGs will be possible only by 2019. The 40,000-tonne IAC, to be christened INS Vikrant, will be ready for induction only by December 2018, as was first reported by TOI.

"Design and construction of a carrier has many challenges. Around 75% of the IAC structure has now been erected. India joins only four countries — the US, Russia, the UK and France - capable of building a carrier over 40,000-tonne," he said.

The 44,570-tonne INS Vikramaditya - or the Admiral Gorshkov carrier now undergoing sea trials after a $2.33-billion refit in Russia - in turn will be ready by end-2013 instead of the original August 2008 deadline.

Vice Admiral Dhowan admitted India's solitary carrier, the 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, will soldier on till 2018 due to these long delays. The 54-year-old INS Viraat is left with just 11 Sea Harrier jump-jets to operate from its deck. The 45 MiG-29K naval fighters, being procured from Russia for over $2 billion, can operate only from Vikramaditya and IAC.

The 260-metre-long IAC, whose construction finally began in November 2006, will be able to carry 12 MiG-29Ks, eight Tejas light combat aircraft and 10 early-warning and anti-submarine helicopters on its 2.5-acre flight deck and hangars. It will have a crew of 160 officers and 1,400 sailors. Powered by four American LM2500 gas turbines, the IAC will have an endurance of around 7,500 nautical miles at a speed of 18 knots.

INS Vikrant, India's first indigenous aircraft carrier, to be launched on August 12

India will launch its first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, on August 12 from the Kochi shipyard. This will make India only the fifth country after the US, Russia, Britain and France to have the capability to build such vessels.

"About 83 per cent of the fabrication work and 75 per cent of the construction work will be over when the ship goes into water," said Indian Navy's vice chief, Admiral Robin Dhowan.

The rest of the work, including the flight deck, will be completed once the ship is launched, the Navy vice chief said. The aircraft carrier is expected to be inducted into the Indian Navy by 2018.

Admiral Dhowan also said that the 40,000 tonne indigenous aircraft carrier is one of its most prestigious warship projects and unprecedented in terms of size and complexity. It has been designed by Indian Navy's design organisation.

INS Vikrant will have two take-off runways and a landing strip with three arrester wires capable of operating a STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery). The main stay fighters positioned on board would be Russian made MiG -29k fighter jets. The naval variant of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) produced by India is also scheduled to be positioned on the warship. However, it would depend on how quickly and effectively Navy variant of the LCA is produced and cleared for active duty.

While nearly 90 per cent of the body work of the aircraft carrier has been designed and made in India, about 50 per cent of propulsion system is of Indian origin and about 30 per cent of fighting capability of the warship are from India.

"It will be equipped with a long range surface-to-air missiles system with multi-function radar and close-in weapons system (CIWS)," Admiral Dhowan said.

Apart from joining a select group of nations that build aircraft carriers, the major achievement for India has been the ability to fabricate weapons grade steel. "After our initial difficulty in procuring weapons grade steel, our own laboratories were able to crack the code. Steel Authority of India is now producing the requisite quality of steel" Admiral Dhowan said.

The ability to produce weapons grade steel is a big plus since majority of Indian warships will now be produced in India.