Friday, December 5, 2008

Lifting The Lid Off Project India

It was in the mid-1980s that the Indian Navy (IN) was promised by both the then government-in-power as well as the DRDO that the IN would, by 2004 have an SSGN derivative of the indigenous nuclear-powered Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) technology demonstrator. However, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the financial crisis of 1991 and the ‘Shakti’ series of five nuclear weapons tests of May 1998 all contributed to the ATV project’s R & D timetable being drastically revised, and its performance parameters being redrafted by late 2000. What the IN now wanted were three SSGNs and at least one SSBN. According to Russia’s Ministry of Defence, the issue of dry-leasing of two Akula-3 SSGNs was first discussed during talks which began in St Petersburg on September 15, 1999 between the then Chief of the Russian Navy Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov and his Indian counterpart Admiral Sushil Kumar. The lease issue was firmly in the agenda of both India and Russia by October 2000 after both countries inked a Declaration of Strategic Partnership. In February 2001, Rosoboronexport State Corp’s Deputy General Director Viktor Komardin officially stated that India had expressed an interest in leasing a single Akula-3 SSGN. On June 5, 2001, however, Russian newspapers reported that India and Russia were planning to sign a contract by the end of 2001 for the completion of two unfinished Project 971A Shchuka-B SSGNs which were under construction at the Amursky Shipyard at Komsomolsk-on-Amur (this being the Akula-3 K-152 Nerpa) and the Akula-2 K-337 Kuguar, whose construction at Severnoye Machine-Building Enterprise in Severodvinsk) had begun in 1993. Russian Defence Ministry officials confirmed that this issue was discussed on June 4 during the inaugural meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-MTC) in which Russian Deputy Premier Ilya Klebanov and India’s then Defence and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh took part. On January 26, 2002 while visiting Amursky Shipyard, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov confirmed that Russia planned to lease two SSGNs to India. The terms of the yet-to-be-inked contract would include the training of IN submarine crews in Russia and the lease of two SSGNs for five years each, beginning in 2004. It was in late 2002 that the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) reportedly committed itself to acquire at least one SSGN for the IN based on purely China-centric threat perceptions. Consequently, Navy HQ firmed up its plans to dry-lease for a period of 10 years (with an option to increase it by another five years) the K-152 Nerpa (the Seal), a Project 971A Shchuka-B (Akula-3) SSGN whose keel was laid down in 1986. The Letter of Intent for leasing the SSGN under ‘Project India’ was inked on February 8, 2002 in New Delhi during the 2nd session of the IRIGC-MTC between the then Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and the then Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes. On November 24, 2002 final price negotiations for the lease began took place during Klebanov’s visit to New Delhi. Rosoboronexport officials then stated that fabrication of the two SSGNs will resume after India pays the first tranche of $100 million as per the contract. The final lease contract for only the Nerpa for the time-being, valued at US$650 million (Rs26 billion), was inked in New Delhi on January 20, 2004.

The Nerpa is the 15th SSGN and the second Akula-3 built under project 971 (codenamed Shchuka) and was designed by the St Petersburg-based Malachite Marine Engineering Bureau under Chief Designer Georgy Chernyshev who, after his death in 1997, was succeeded by Yuri Farafontov. While the Severnoye Machine-Building Enterprise has to date built seven Akulas, while the Amursky Shipbuilding Plant has built eight. The Akulas built by the former have been named after land-based beasts of prey, while those built by the latter bear the names of fish and other marine animals. The latest version of the Akula SSGN is the Akula-3 and its dived displacement is 13,800 tonnes, full dived speed is 33 Knots, operational diving depth is 520 metres and maximum diving depth is 600 metres. The SSGn can carry up to 40 weapons ranging from cruise missiles to torpedoes to sea mines. The Akula-3 comes with a two-stage noise supression system and all compartments are shockproof, which results in a five-fold reduction in the level of acoustic fields when compared to the Akula-1. Both the Nerpa and its sister vessel, the K-335 Gepard, are the first ‘3+ generation’ nuclear-powered submarines of Russian origin that have a centralised integrated platform management system (IPMS) and a combat management system (CMS), all of which have resulted in the crew complement being reduced to only 73. The IPMS is called ‘Molibden-1’ and has been developed by the Krylov Central Research Institute, while the CMS was developed by the St Petersburg-based Aurora Research & Production Association FSUE, which has also supplied the 15-module submarine monitoring-cum-data recording system. The integrated sonar suite has been developed by Morphyspribor Central Research Institute and Akvamarin JSC, and built by FSUE Taganrog Priboy Plant. The Nerpa’s most visible distinguishing features are the more elongated and slightly pugged barriers (to its port and starboard) for retractable gear and a more aft-mounted compact gondola mounted on the aft vertical fin, which houses a low-frequency thin-line towed-array sonar suite.

To be christened as INS Chakra, the K-152 Nerpa will be commissioned in August next year at Bolshoi Kamen in Vladivostok and will arrive 15 days later at Vizag, HQ of the IN’s eastern Naval Command, after undertaking a ferry voyage through the Western Pacific and entering the Indian Ocean after transiting through the Lombok Straits. In January 2007, work began on modifying (at a cost of $135 million or Rs5.4 billion) the SSGN to accept on board up to 18 Novator 3M53E/3M14E multi-role cruise missiles as well as TEST-71ME and TEST-71ME-NK torpedoes (built by Russia’s DVIGATEL FSUE and Region State Research & Production Enterprise) that will be fired from the SSGN’s six 533.4mm and four 650mm tubes. The Chakra commenced harbour trials last April and by last June had begun its pre-sea trial phase. The hull will also feature twin flank-array sonars for being used as a torpedo approach warning system, and a stern-mounted distinctive ‘bulb’ on top of the rudder housing an ultra-low frequency thin-line towed active/passive sonar array. INS Chakra’s crew complement will be all-Indian. Some 300 IN personnel, comprising three sets of crews, have for the past 3.5 years been extensively trained and type-rated to man the SSGN at a specially built secure facility in the town of Sovnovy Bor near St Petersburg. They are now back in Russia this for pre-commissioning activities. The IN will be using this SSGN for the following:
· Undertaking anti-submarine patrols along the southeastern and southwestern parts of the Indian Ocean.
· Establishing a series of restricted submarine patrol sectors in far-flung areas of the Indian Ocean to allow persistent undersea warfare operations unimpeded by the operation of, or possible attack from, friendly or hostile forces in wartime; and without submerged mutual interference in peacetime.
· Perfecting the art of communicating with submerged SSGNs using VLF, UHF SATCOMS, SHF and EHF frequencies, and using maritime surveillance/ASW aircraft as mission controllers for the SSGNs.
· Exploring ways of evolving a robust and nuclear first strike-survivable two-way communications system comprising shore-based, airborne and submerged elements to ensure that the SSGN’s commander receives explicit rules of engagement and strategic targeting data.
· Analysing the pros and cons of having either a decentralised C³ network for certain types of missions, or a tightly centralised network by developing command automation via network-centric warfare strategies.
· Trying to achieve submarine internet protocol connectivity and working on solutions that will deliver a reduction in time latency, increased throughput and the ability to maintain communications at speed and depth. One technology demonstrator already developed by the DRDO by still classified comprises a submarine- or air-launched recoverable tethered optical fibre (RTOF) buoyant 450mm diameter buoy which, upon reaching the surface, deploys a low-frequency acoustic projector to a preset depth, enabling reach-forward from the Fleet Command’s SSGN operating authority via a built-in SATCOM antenna. A pager is then activated via SATCOM and paging and target cueing messages are sent to the submarine at a data rate of 2.4 kb/second. Consideration is also being given to the use of a swimming communications device, such as an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which would surface to exchange data via SATCOM via a repeatable 32kb/second communications window, and then return to the host SSGN for download. A prototype AUV for undertaking such operations has already been developed by the DRDO.
· Use of RTOF buoys, which provide data rates of around 32kb/second while the SSGN is cruising at 8 Knots and is more than 244 metres underwater. The IN’s longer-term network-centric vision includes the use of distributed undersea networks, offering the submarine a network of known underwater nodes to be used to download large amounts of information, while remaining at depth. The concept calls for a field of acoustic sensors, UHF local area network-linked platforms and SATCOM buoys.
· Establishing a protocol for undertaking deep-sea crew rescue and salvage operations using the IN’s yet-to-be-acquired remotely operated rescue vehicles (RORV) and related launch-and-recovery system (LARS) and a fully integrated self-contained emergency life support system (ELSS) package.

However, it must be noted that the acquisition of INS Chakra give by no means give India the long-awaited third leg of the nuclear triad. Neither will the SSGN come under the tri-service Strategic Forces Command. Simply put, the Akula-3 SSGN will be armed with Club-S anti-ship/land attack cruise missiles which, along with the on-board torpedoes, will give the SSGN a formidable sea-denial capability along a 200nm arc contiguous to India’s coastline as well as in the Indian Ocean Region. Russia, which adheres to the Missile Technology Control Regime along with the NPT and START-2 treaties, is obligated to ensure that INS Chakra does not carry on board any nuclear weapon whatsoever. Furthermore, the SSGN’s employment in wartime too will be highly restricted and its rules of engagement will have to be cleared with Moscow, thus limiting India’s operational sovereignty over the SSGN. In fact, it is due to this very reason that the ATV project is being undertaken to ensure that India’s nuclear deterrent, in the long run, remains effective, enduring, diverse, flexible, and responsive to the requirements of credible minimum deterrence.--Prasun K. Sengupta


Anonymous said...

surely this wont be a nuclear deterant since its not ours. its just a step to make sure when we get our own ssgns next decade, we will be competant do operate it

Anonymous said...

enough time has been wasted. instead of wasting more time training only after acquiring the indegenous ssgn, we better get prepered now

Anonymous said...

something like - while for our mercedes s class to be built, we learn driving on a bmw 7 series (assuming all this while we have only driven auto), so when our s class arrives, we can just get into it and drive ahead. same concept

Anonymous said...

doesn't india make her own torpedos? i heard i was developed by drdo. any news

on another note, iaf wont buy more tejas until changes are made.

"Once the engine is chosen, fuselage modifications will have to be carried out, flight tests started and evaluation undertaken. All trainer aircraft even after Tejas Mk2 rolls out will continue to have the present GE F404 engines."

how long would this take... and by that time iaf would have new asr...

Prasun K Sengupta said...

Thus far, India's Bharat Dynamics Ltd is only making lightweight torpedoes of the A244 Whitehead-type. The DRDO has yet to finish developing the wire-guided or active heavyweight torpedo.

After the new powerplant has been selected for the Tejas LCA, then the internal engine bulkherads will have to be redesigned and modified to accommodate the new turbofan. After that, there will have to be another 800 hours of flight-testing on up to four pre-production prototype aircraft. All this will take another five years at least. If all goes as per plans, then the first ASQR-compliant LCA could enter service by only 2015.

Anonymous said...

yaa, and by then a new set of asqr will be out..

Anonymous said...

Prasun, all ur articles are mostly on military hardware.

for a change, can you put up an article on Ashok Chaturvedi, Secy (RAW), give so much taht has happened.

Anonymous said...

mr above, the reason we come here is to know about military stuff which prasun is really good in. whether people like it or not thats the fact. regarding spy / RAW / geopolitics, visit blogs like you dont expect this prasun guy to know everything. he writes about defence, then starts of about geopolitics, then someone will request he start a topic on economy.. then at last he may have to write about everything including porn lol etc. like a jack of all trades master in none.

prasun, suggestion to you: make this blog SOLELY about indian defence (china and pak is also fine as it concerns us). i am sure everyone here is an indian and we are not interested in brazil bought this.. malaysia bought that.. make this blog INDIA centric one concentrating on indegenous development - which we have very little light on.

regarding other stuff there are more reliable websites like aussie defence.. etc that we can see but till date i see the best coverage on INDIAN indegenous defence coming from this blog. no where else have i read anything so good and detailed about ATV.

i mean the depth of coverage like:

"""This drawings were delivered to L & T by late 2003 and included those for the pressure hull, shrouded propulsor, upper and lower rudder segments, starboard hydroplane, aft anchor light, aft rudder and hydroplane hydraulic actuators, Nos1,2,3 and 4 main ballast tank, propeller shaft, high-pressure bottles, towed-array sonar’s cable drum and winch, main ballast venting system, aft and forward pressure domes, air treatment units, naval stores, propeller shaft thrust block and bearing, circulating water transfer pipes,..."""

lol.. i went blank not knowing what all that are.. but its really a satisfying read.

of course only time will tell if what he says are true and if it isn't then it will surely have a bearing on his credibility and we will all come back ang bang him

so for now, i gotta say: good job prsun sengupta! i appreciate ur effort.

Anonymous said...

i am above

i know some people come here from br / livefist / broadsword etc with personal grudges and write things like fuck u sengupta, sengupta always copy-paste plagarism.. etc and other bad things in the comment form... u guys can continue your rubbish... even if its copy paste the average guy like me does not have access to the "originals", and thats why i come to this blog, so it makes no difference to me.

if its copy pasting and its soo easy why not somebody else come out with a blog like this? is anybody out there willing to redocument it in a blog and offer personalised explanation to each and every guy who has a question to ask??? because if u do please tell me i will quit visiting this blog and come over to your blog.

Max said...


So I presume that being an all Indian crew, there will be no restrictions on accessing the reactor compartment or firing those missiles for training purposes. But how about for self-defence? Will the Indian crew be allowed to defend itself using those Akulas if they come under hostile line of fire?

You say DRDO is yet to finish developing their own heavy torpedo. Can I know a bit more about this project?

To arm India's indegenous SSGNs that will follow, India would most likely use the BrahMos or some other imported cruise missile with a range of below 300 km. This isn't potent enough. What are India's plans (if any) to build a longer range cruise missile (along the lines of Tomahawk)? Are there plans to build a longer range derivative of BrahMos that will be
undertaken solely by India?

Prasun K Sengupta said...

To Anon@5:11AM: Regretably I cannot oblige you simply because I am not a party to such internal bureaucratic squabbles and consequently I have no insider's knowledge of what exactly is going on inside R & AW.

To Anon@5:44AM: Many thanks for your compliments. However, I won;t be making this blog India-centric as there are several others who are interested in military-industrial issues of consequence to Southeast Asia and ASEAN. And mind you, like China and Pakistan and SAARC, ASEAN and Southeast Asia too are of vital geo-strategic interest to India, as I'm sure you will deeply appreciate. As regards details of the ATV, believe me when I claim that if such data were made available to the mass-media, then the likes of INDIA TODAY or NDTV would have already gone to town with it. Either these organisations are totally in the dark or they don't understand the subject and therefore don't know where to look and what to look out for. Next, regarding copy-pasting, yes I admit to doing that, BUT FROM brochures, technical data presentations etc. And I'm sure the guys that write books on Su-30MKI or MiG-29K/KUB also rely on identical sources to source their data. So, if the contents of my article and such books are one and the same (in some cases) how can I be blamed for plagiarism? On the other hand, the likes of Vishnu Som (I have nothing personal against him as I haven't even met him thus far) dispute my statement on the airborne data links on board the Su-30MKI being of Israeli origin, yet when it comes to the crunch, there's no comprehensive explanation or counter-explanation coming from anyone, either from Som or the writers of books on the Su-30MKI. I can only guess that they don;t in this case have access to the contractual documents that I do and therefore tend to shy away when confronted with specific evidence.

To Max: The Akula-3 will have a skeletal Russian reactor safety crew on board. As per the rules of engagement, the Akula-3 will be able to operate throughout South Asia, but not in Southeast Asia (including Malacca Straits and South China and the Western Pacific) as India is a signatory to the Southeast Asia Treaty on Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone). The Akula-3 will be able to fire its weapons for test-firings as well as engaging targets in self-defence if the SSGN crew believes that the SSGN is under attack. But no deliberate pre-planned offensive operations.
Regarding the DRDO's heavyweight torpedo projects, there's plenty of available info and photos in open-source areas. More will be revealed during the Aero India 09 expo next February. Regarding the BrahMos, be it the present ones or their likely future avatars (BarhMos 2/3/4/5 etc), they will ALL HAVE their ranges capped at 300km, period. Nor will the DRDO be allowed to reverse-engineer the BrahMos to build a longer-range derivative, period. The only logical and feasible option for the DRDO is to develop a sub-launched cruise missile variant of the ADM, and this is exactly what the Sagarika Project office is doing. But please let us all here for once and for all put an end to all speculation about a longer-range BrahMos being co-developed by Russia and India, as this will NEVER happen, thanks to Russia's MTCR obligations.

Shriya said...

10 years contract at $650 million - 65 mil / year.

so it means $650 mil to complete building a nuclear submarine and lease it for 10 years. hmm..

But when UK pays around 2 bil pounds to build one submarine this doesn't seem too bad.

Prasun K Sengupta said...

Dear Shriya, do think harder and you will realise that the figure US$650 million does not constitute the total cost of building the Akula-3. The cost of one Akula-3 is more like $950 million as there have been 14 such SSGNs built before. But when it comes to building the first SSGN of a new design, there are a lot of sunken costs or non-recurring expenditure and therefore costs more than US$2.5 billion. And the greatest difference is that the more expensive SSGN is for you to keep permanently, whereas the leased SSGN has to be returned back.

Shriya said...

Dear Prasun darling, what I mean is it is an okay deal. as you said the cost of constructing one Akula 3 is $950 mil. We are only paying $650 mil. We get to keep the submarine for 10 years. Once it is returned i very much don't think Russia will induct it again since it will be obsolete by then. of course the down side is we dont have absoulute freedom over using it. but this the only option we got at the moment. so there is no saying whether it is worth or not. we conldnt have got anything better or worse from anywhere else. thats all i intended to say.

Anonymous said...

Not much current "news" on the progress of AVATAR. I found some pics on paki forums and youtube. The last news article mentioned the mini-AVATAR being tested by 2008..

Anybody has any update on this?

Also ISRO's RLV, as I understand, is a separate try at a hypersonic craft. Does this have any connection with the military version?

Prasun K Sengupta said...

Shriya, the K-152 Nerpa will be recommiasioned into the Russian Navy once it is returned back after 10 years. In between, it will have to go back to Bolshoi Kamen thrice for the periodic repairs (which is once every three years). As the life of the SSGN is 20 years, the K-152 Nerpa will likely undergo a mid-life refit after India returns it back and re-enter service. As of now, the K-152 Nerpa is Russia's most advanced SSGN and even its predecessor, the Gepard, had CRT displays on board. The K-152 Nerpa on the other hand features AMLCD displays and processors of the type and sophistication seen on board the Russian Navy's Amur 1650 SSK. The Nerpa is also the first such SSGN to feature such systems on board.

Anonymous said...

yes me too asking.. whats the status with avatar? prasun, can u help here?

Anonymous said...

prasun... u there?

Anonymous said...

you need not thank me for the complements. i am just saying whats right. and you need not explain about copy pasting because i know the definition of citations and it is unlikely that anybody can write something without using proper citations. unless we r gifted with some special powers where everything comes in our dreams. even if it means publishing the brochures themselves it is still fine for me because i dont know where to get these brochures from, and even if i do know, i am sure i wont have the time to get them. you are bringing all this info to my monitor screen so you deserve credit for that. so long i get to know accurate insights with adequate explanation that the normal media cannot cover, i am happy.

nevermind if you feel you want news on saarc or sea then it is ok. i just gave a suggestion, thats all. it is ur blog. i just said it because for other countries there are already adquate materials on other websites but not for indian defense stuff. but again its up to u.

and dont be undetered by people who write nasty things because even those guys i can bet u say those kinda things after reading ur articles. i have seen several articles of urs in idf where people discuss about it. so carry on ur good work of sharing ur knowledge and your personalized attention of answering peoples questions to people who ask b'coz they really wanna know something. the rest just igonre.

Anonymous said...

will the SSBNs or SSGNS we acquire be put under the Strategic Nuclear Command sir?

Anonymous said...

can anybody help with the status of INS Tabar? Noel is saying it was a trawler, india denies and says they acted in their jurisdiction of self defence. now is ins tabar still in that region? what about plans to deploy a brahmapitra destroyer?

Anonymous said...


do you know any updates about the Mahindra Axe? Apparently the army was testing it to replace their old jeeps. That was according to Ajai's blog sometime back. Will they induct it? Please share your knowledge on this with me. thank you. By Vinay

Shiv Aroor said...

great article, prasun.

Anonymous said...

yes shiv. its really great. hopefully you can learn something

Shiv Aroor said...

thanks for tip anon. now go back to your knitting!

Prasun K Sengupta said...

To Anon@11:31AM: Firstly, it is called the Strategic Forces Command. The operational SSBN and SSGNs will come under this Command, but the ATV and the Akula-3 SSGN will not.