The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Nuke vessel on wishlist

New Delhi, Dec. 2: The navy today made a strong pitch for acquiring a nuclear submarine, a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin, deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and their delegation are to reach New Delhi for talks on, among other things, arms sales to India.

Navy chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh did not categorically mention “nuclear submarine” — the subject being designated as “confidential” — but said the concept of arming the navy with a nuclear submarine was justified. It is possible that the Russians may have linked the sale or lease of a nuclear submarine to the sale of the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. However, there was no official word on this.

The navy chief also said India was now closer to building its own air defence ship — an ambitious carrier development programme — which had moved from the drawing board stage to actual construction.

India is in talks with Russia to acquire at least one Akula II class nuclear submarine — a fact that is officially denied but nonetheless frequently referred to in strategic circles. Klebanov and his delegation are scheduled to meet Union defence minister George Fernandes tomorrow. The navy chief’s utterances were not specifically timed to coincide with the visit of the Russians but it does make his position clear.

A nuclear submarine for the navy would not only arm it with a stealth weapon capable of staying underwater for long periods but also give it a launching pad for nuclear missiles from sea. (A “nuclear submarine” is essentially a “nuclear-powered” submarine).

The strategic objective of the Indian defence establishment, too, has been to acquire a “nuclear triad”, jargon for making its air, sea and land forces capable of launching nuclear weapons. Singh said there was a case for having the strongest nuclear arm at sea because other nuclear assets were land-based. If the enemy were to target nuclear arms based on land, collateral damage would be much more than in such an event occurring at sea.

“...Conceptually, India being a declared nuclear state with a no first use doctrine, it must have a nuclear triad with the strongest arm being at sea — underwater”, the navy chief said.

The admiral said the Centre had also approved development of the air defence ship. The ship, a 30,000-tonne vessel, was being built in the Kochi shipyard. It would take an estimated 10 years to be completed.

The navy chief said acquisition of three “Krivack” class frigates, the first of which was to be delivered by the Russians this year, has been delayed because certain technical glitches were being ironed out.

He said the deployment of the navy in the North Arabian Sea during Operation Parakram was a “strong pressure force” on Pakistan.

The navy chief said negotiations for the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov were still on and were proceeding. He denied reports alleging that the 40,000-tonne ship was outdated and unusable. Asked if the deal was to be discussed tomorrow, he said: “Both the sides want a good deal and price negotiations are on by highly professional officers who were committed to India getting a good deal.”

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