Submarines: It's Worse Than It Sounds


January 9, 2012: On December 30, the new Russian Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine) Nerpa, that was supposed to be turned over to India (which is leasing it) two years ago, was finally delivered. It's worse than it sounds. Three years ago, during sea trials there was an equipment failure on Nerpa that killed 20 sailors and shipyard workers. This delayed sea trials for many months and the Russians found more items that needed attention. These additional inspections and repairs continued until quite recently.

While long rumored, it was only four years ago that India officially acknowledged that it was leasing a Russian Akula II, which was to enter Indian service in 2009. Persistent rumors had it that, two years before, India arranged to lease two Akula IIs, for several million dollars a month per sub. It apparently took this long to train the crews. There were hundreds of sailors and government officials involved in this operation and, while tidbits of information kept leaking out, the government refused comment.

The Akula IIs were recently built. Indian money enabled Russia to complete construction on at least two Akulas that 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. But money could not overcome the construction problems and poor design decisions the Russians made. The single Akula II India was leasing was delayed again and again. The 8,100 ton Akula II has a crew of 73. The one leased by India has eight 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes and 40 torpedoes.

Meanwhile, in 2009, India launched its first nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies). This came after over a decade of planning and construction. What was not revealed at the times was that the Arihant was launched without its nuclear reactor, which was not ready until the following year.

The Arihant was launched in 2009 because work on the sub had been going on for more than a decade and it was becoming embarrassing to have nothing to show for all that effort. The first of six Arihants is supposed to enter service this year as an SSBN (ballistic missile carrying sub). The 6,000 ton Arihant has four vertical launch tubes, which can carry twelve (three per launch tune) smaller K-15 missiles (with a range of 1,900 kilometers), or four larger K-4 (based on the Agni III) missiles, each with a range of 3,500 kilometers. The K-4 is still in development. Two more Arihants are under construction.

The Arihant is based on the Russian Charlie II sub, which it resembles. A leased Russian Akula II nuclear sub will basically serve as a training boat for India's new nuclear submarine force. Russia retired all its Charlie class subs in the early 1990s. India leased one from 1988-91, and gained a great deal of familiarity with it. The Charlie class had eight launch tubes, outside the pressure hull, for anti-ship missiles.  


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