July 29, 2009:
The Russian Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine) that was supposed to be delivered to India this year, will finally complete sea trials, after undergoing $60 million in repairs and revisions. For months, however, the Russian Navy had problems completing these sea trials. The Russians couldn't get enough qualified sailors and civilian technicians to serve on the boat. This is because, while first undergoing sea trials last November, there was an accidental activation of the fire extinguisher system. This killed twenty sailors and civilians, and injured more than twenty. 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 had to suspended for a while, making the sub ineligible for transfer to the Indian Navy. A year ago, Indian officials acknowledged that it was leasing at least one Russian Akula II, which was to enter Indian service in 2009.
Late last year, Indian submarine sailors went to Vladivostok, the Russian city on the Pacific, near the naval base where the new Akula II boat is based. These Indian submariners are apparently the crew of the leased boat, that apparently will be called the INS Chakra (the same name used by the Charlie class Russian sub India leased from 1988-91). It's believed that the Indians have the option to back out of the lease if the sea trials don't work out. Traditionally, when a new ship losses lots of people during sea trials, it is regarded as "cursed" and unlucky. Sailors can be a superstitious, especially when there are dead bodies involved.
The 7,000 ton Akula class subs first entered service 23 years ago. So far, 16 have been built, but only nine of these are active. The rest are in various degrees of retirement, because not enough trained sailors, and operating funds, are available to keep all sixteen of Russians latest SSNs in service. An Akula II requires a crew of 51 highly trained sailors. The Indian money 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.
The Indian crew was, apparently, to take possession of the INS Chakra this Summer, and take it back to India. But until Russia can lift the curse from this boat, and get enough sailors on board to complete the sea trials, the Indians will have to wait. Bonuses and threats have apparently gotten enough sailors to run the sub II through its sea trials. So it looks like the Indians will get their Akula II before the end of the year. Terms of the lease have not been released, but it has been reported that the lease is for ten years, at $65 million a year ($178,000 a day). The Indians are using INS Chakra to train crews for its own nuclear subs (one was just launched and two more are building). The INS Chakra is more advanced than the new Indian boats (which are based on the Charlie class boats, which were all retired by 1994), and this will enable the Indians to carefully examine this more advanced design.