Nuclear submarine all set to enter waters

CHENNAI: The mood is upbeat in the Navy, the Bhabha Atomic Research INS ArihantCentre (BARC) and the Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDO) with the indigenously developed nuclear-powered submarine, INS Arihant, (destroyer of enemies) all set to enter the water from the dry-dock at Visakhapatnam on Sunday.

The submarine is already fitted with a miniaturised nuclear-powered reactor developed by BARC at Kalpakkam, 60 km from Chennai.

“The boat entering the water is an important step forward” in the project, said a top DRDO official.

A BARC scientist said: “We have done our portion of the work. There were huge challenges in developing this reactor that will fit into a submarine.”

The mini-nuclear reactor that will power the submarine has been fitted into its hull. “The reactor can be operated and maintained,” said another BARC scientist. Highly enriched uranium will power the reactor which has a capacity of 80 MWe. This enriched uranium has come from the Rare Materials Project, an undertaking of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), situated at Ratnahallai, near Mysore. The programme bore the codename “Advanced Technology Vessel” project.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will launch the sea trials, when the sluice gates will be opened and water will flood the dry-dock, and the submarine will float. The boat is about 105 metres long and is a joint product of the Navy, the BARC and the DRDO.

India is the fifth country to build a nuclear-powered submarine, after Russia, the U.S., France and China. When the vessel is complete in all its respects and also fitted with K-15 missiles developed by DRDO, the nation’s nuclear triad will be ready. It will then possess nuclear warheads that can be delivered from ground, air and from under water.

The DRDO has mastered the technology of firing missiles from under water by launching them earlier from submerged pontoons.

Informed officials said various fitments would have to be made and this would last a year. “Fitments will have to be made when the boat is in water. It is a long process. It will take a year. But the submarine entering the water from the dry-dock is a major step in that process,” said a top DRDO official.

Only after all the fitments are made, the submarine would start moving in water and its under-water trials conducted. The missiles would be fitted later. “You cannot fit explosives [missiles with warheads] into the submarine when people are doing various fitments inside it,” the official explained. Thus, it would take about two years for the submarine to be fully ready including its K-15 weapon platform.

While the BARC built the reactor, it is essentially a Naval project. The Navy designed the vessel, built its power plant, and did all the welding. Larsen and Toubro fabricated the hull. Various parts were built at Visakhapatnam, Mumbai and Kalpakkam, and assembled at Visakhapatnam.

Ends secrecy

It could be co-incidence that the launch is being held on a day that marks the 10th anniversary of the victory in the Kargil War.

The formal ceremony would finally lift the veil of secrecy over the two-decade-old naval project. After having denied its existence, earlier this year the government acknowledged that the country was on course in building such a platform.

Nuclear submarines in naval parlance are known as the “Silent Killers.”

The advantage of a nuclear submarine is its ability to stay underwater for months unlike the conventional diesel electric versions. The latter have to hit the surface periodically to recharge batteries that makes the chances of it being spotted greater.

Pact with Russia

 India used a nuclear submarine leased by Russia from 1988 to 1991 and has signed an agreement for the transfer of a couple of nuclear-powered Russian Akula class submarines, one of which is expected to be inducted by the Navy this year.

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