Some doubts

Some doubts

The acquisition by India of a Russian  Akula II class  nuclear attack submarine on  a 10-year lease will help to raise the Indian Navy’s profile.

There is a lot of symbolism in being able to operate a nuclear submarine and India is only the sixth country in the world to be doing so.  The submarine,  named INS Chakra, will come without nuclear-tipped missiles from Russia.  India is also expected to lease another nuclear submarine from Russia in the near future. It is not for the first time that such a deal is being made with Russia. India had leased a Charlie class submarine from the then Soviet Union for three years in 1988.  It had come without strategic weapons and with a condition that it should not be used in war.

One important purpose in the leasing of the submarine is to familiarise Indian naval personnel in operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine. India has produced a nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, with help from Russia and it was launched in July 2009. But the country needs to go a long distance before it can claim to have an effective submarine nuclear deterrent. 

Nuclear submarines are of great strategic value as they give a second strike capability by remaining under water for weeks. In fact the latest nuclear submarines can  stay without refuelling for life.  It is difficult to operate and maintain a nuclear submarine  as  it involves high technology and the use of a nuclear reactor. 

The technological gap India has to cover may be seen from the fact that Arihant employs just about second generation technology while the most advanced nuclear submarines in the world belong to the ninth generation.  That is why there are some doubts whether the leasing of the submarine at a cost of one billion dollars is worth it.  China, with which India’s military power is often compared, has Jin class nuclear subs which are  far ahead in technology.

But all this does not detract from  the value and importance of India’s  submarine nuclear deterrence efforts.  The Indian navy’s operation of the leased submarine and INS Arihant, which is undergoing sea trials now, will give it expertise in handling such vessels and creating the infrastructure and developing the practices to maintain them.   It is necessary to develop completely indigenous capabilities  of production but  it  will take time.  The country  should eventually go beyond leasing to self-reliance.  

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