VISAKHAPATNAM: The 8,140-tonne steel shark floated menacingly, tethered to the jetty, as if waiting to break free. Soon, it will, to prowl silently underwater for extended periods hunting for enemies to track and kill.
The nuclear-powered attack submarine INS Chakra, with lethal “hunter-killer” and intelligence-gathering capabilities”, was formally inducted into Indian Navy on a 10-year lease from Russia at a cost of around $1 billion on Wednesday.
Defence minister A K Antony, Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and Russian ambassador Alexander M Kadakin, among others, all extolled the submarine as a “shining example” of the deep and abiding “strategic partnership” between India and Russia during the “welcome” ceremony at the highly-guarded Ship-Building Centre here.
INS Chakra, with a dived displacement of 12,000-tonne, will, however, not give India its long-awaited third leg of the “nuclear weapons triad” since it’s not armed with long-range strategic missiles due to international treaties. That will only happen after the country’s own homegrown nuclear submarine INS Arihant, armed with the nuclear-tipped K-15 missiles, is inducted into service sometime next year.
But INS Chakra, propelled by a 190MW nuclear reactor for a maximum speed of around 30 knots, will give India the capability to deploy “a potent weapons delivery platform”, armed as it is with 300-km Klub-S land-attack cruise missiles and advanced torpedoes, at a place of its choosing at long distances with lot of stealth. “We can outrun and overcome any adversary in our neighbourhood,” said a confident INS Chakra’s captain P Ashokan.
Admiral Verma said the 100-metre INS Chakra had propelled India into a select group of countries like the US, Russia, France, the UK and China, to operate nuclear-powered submarines. “It gives us operational flexibility in our blue-water operations,” he said.
China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), coupled with its increasing assertiveness in the entire Asia-Pacific region, is obviously a big worry for India. Interestingly enough, the Akula-II class “K-152 Nerpa” submarine silently traversed the South China Sea during its 42-day journey to India after being rechristened INS Chakra in Russia.
Antony downplayed the China angle as is his wont. “Induction of INS Chakra, or other warships, is not aimed at any country. It is meant to more effectively strengthen our national and maritime security. India does not believe in an arms race but we have long land and coastal borders,” he said.
On being asked by ToI, Antony admitted India was in negotiations with Russia for leasing another Akula-II class submarine from Russia after INS Chakra. “But no final decision has been taken,” he said.
Nuclear-powered submarines can operate underwater for long periods, with normal patrols stretching to up to 70 days, unlike the conventional diesel-electric submarines that have to surface every three to four days to get oxygen to recharge their batteries. With just 14 ageing conventional submarines, at a time when both China and Pakistan are boosting their submarines fleets, INS Chakra will add some much-needed muscle to India’s depleting underwater combat arm.