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India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine gears up for maiden sea trials

New Delhi(TOI): India’s first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant is now finally all set to make its maiden foray into the wide-open sea. The 6,000-tonne vessel, with an 83MW pressurized light-water reactor at its core for propulsion, is slated to begin its sea trials off Visakhapatnam within the next few days.

INS Arihant, or the “annihilator of enemies”, and its two under-construction follow-on vessels are the critical missing link in the country’s long-standing pursuit to have an operational nuclear weapons triad — the capability to fire nuclear warhead from land, air and sea.

While the Agni ballistic missiles and fighter-bombers constitute the first two legs, the triad’s missing underwater leg has for long troubled the country’s strategic establishment. Nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles (SSBNs), after all, are considered the triad’s most difficult-to-detect and effective leg. There is also growing concern over China stepping up its submarine activity in the Indian Ocean.

The much-awaited milestone on the INS Arihant front comes just a fortnight after Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said it would “very soon” head for sea trials. “The submarine’s miniaturized reactor, which went critical in August 2013, has now attained 100% power. The power had to be slowly stepped up, just 5-10% at a time, with systematic pressure and other checks on all pipelines and machinery being conducted every time,” said a source.

Fingers are now being kept crossed that there are no major hiccups during INS Arihant’s sea-acceptance trials (SATS), which can take around 18 months, after the long-drawn harbour-acceptance trials (HATs) at the ship-building centre at Vizag.

The submarine will first undertake several surface sorties before it dives for a full range of underwater sorties. The SATs will also include test-firing of its K-15 ballistic missiles (750km range), which has so far been tested only from submersible pontoons around a dozen times.

The K-15 SLBM — INS Arihant can carry 12 of them in its four silos — is short-range compared to the well over 5,000km SLBMs brandished by the US, Russia and China. But an over 2,000km range K-4 missile, tested for the first time in March this year, is also in the works.

The next SSBN, S-3 or INS Aridhaman, is also now ready for “launch” into water, while the third called S-4 is at an advanced fabrication stage in the building blocks. Simultaneously, the proposed project to build six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines without ballistic missiles) at Vizag is also being finalized, as earlier reported by TOI.

The Navy currently operates one SSN in the shape of INS Chakra, obtained on a 10-year lease for Russia for around $1 billion, while negotiations are underway to acquire another such boat. While these submarines have short-range cruise missiles, they are not armed with nuclear missiles because of international treaties like the Missile Technology Control Regime.

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