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Navy set to parade nuclear submarine

New Delhi, Jan. 21: India will showcase its nuclear submarine — arguably its most strategic military platform — at the Republic Day parade on Sunday in a week when the government is also expected to decide on the salvage of a submarine that sank off Mumbai in August.

A scaled-down model of the Arihant SSBN (sub-surface ballistic nuclear) submarine, likely to venture out to sea for trials next month, will adorn the Indian Navy’s tableau at the parade. An SSBN submarine is both nuclear-powered and capable of firing a missile with a nuclear warhead.

The navy also operates an SSN (sub surface nuclear), a nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Chakra, leased from Russia.

The Arihant is now being put through harbour acceptance trials at Visakhapatnam before it sails out for the sea trials that will include test-firing of a missile also designed to carry a nuclear warhead.

The missile, called variously as the B-02A, the K-15 and/or Sagarika, is itself a super-secret project of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Its range is said to be 700km.

The government policy on the Arihant SSBN will be quite unlike the low-profile operations of the navy’s submarine arm. The security establishment would like the world to know that India has an SSBN. The Arihant will be its chief “deterrent”, expected to lurk undetected in waters.

The reason for this is the nature of its operations: the SSBN will complete the third leg of India’s “nuclear triad” policy. This envisages the capability to fire nuclear missiles in a second strike (after absorbing a nuclear attack) from the air, ground and under the sea. The last — under the sea and difficult to detect — capability is designed to be provided by the Arihant.

The Arihant has the first mobile nuke reactor in the country that went critical on August 10, 2013. “We have made steady progress in our indigenous nuclear submarine construction programme and it is a major step towards self-reliance,” said Rear Admiral L.V. Sarath Babu, assistant chief of naval staff (submarines).

The sea trials and the likely commissioning of the INS Arihant later this year — which will be tom-tommed by New Delhi — comes against the backdrop of the navy’s worries over the depletion in its submarine fleet.

On the INS Sindhurakshak, which sank last August, defence minister A.K. Antony and the cabinet committee on security were recently forwarded a navy proposal to select a firm to salvage the remains.

A naval board of inquiry is yet to determine what caused the explosion and the sinking. The salvage of the Sindhurakshak, which had been upgraded in Russia earlier in the year, will be costly. The figure could be upwards of Rs 100 crore.

Last week, another submarine, the INS Sindhughosh, was mired in shallow waters in Mumbai’s naval dockyard. Navy sources denied that it “ran aground”. They say the vessel is fully operational and left for patrol today.

It is likely that the water level was not adequate for the submarine because the dockyard had not been dredged as frequently because of bureaucratic delays in contracting a dredging company.

The navy is already coping with an over three-year delay in the delivery of its French-origin Scorpene submarines and government approval for a second line of six submarines under its “Project 75i”. The Project 75i will be one of India’s costliest military acquisitions.

Anticipating the depletion in its submarine fleet, the navy had proposed acquisition of two deep submergence rescue vehicles for emergencies over six years ago. The sources said they had all but finalised a contract and were waiting for the government’s nod.