India shops Russia for submarine technology

Publish date: March 24, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

India appears to push ahead with a program to acquire its first nuclear-powered submarines, inviting Russian training, sales assistance.

Russian Defence Minister, Igor Sergeev, ended three days of talks with his Indian counterpart yesterday which included sending Indian officers to Russian military schools, conventional arms deliveries and, unofficially, the transfer or purchase of two nuclear-powered submarines

The Russian newspaper, Kommersant Daily, reported the presence of an Indian military delegation at a Northern Fleet Akula-class submarine base during the summer of 1998. The delegation was reportedly pleased with the Akula-class boats and in November 1998 raised the question of a possible paurchase at the meeting of a joint military co-operation commission. Those discussions left the signing of a deal to Sergeev’s March visit to the Indian capital.

Kommersant Daily reported India’s request to buy two nuclear-powered submarines during Sergeev’s stay in New Delhi. Indian Funding for the completion and performance testing of Akula submarines was a subsequent request.

Russian officials refused to comment on Sergeev’s trip to India. The Russian daily, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, known for its close military contacts, reported a Defence Ministry that was silent on the issue.

Marat Kenzhetaev, of the Moscow-based Centre for Arms Control, told Bellona Web that news of a sale were pure fiction. He said Russian laws on military-technical co-operation specify types of Russian arms available for sale and eligible client nations.

"This list does not include nuclear-powered submarines so far," Kenzhetaev said.

He said that should Russia move ahead with the deal it will not be in violation of any international agreements or treaties. "But it will make the U.S. and China feel very nervous and they will protest heavily against it," Kenzhetaev added.

Advanced technology vessel
In January 1988, Russia leased a Charlie-I-class cruise-missile submarine to India. When the lease ended in January 1991, India launched its so-called Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) program. Operators of the leased submarine subsequently assumed key positions as nuclear submarine design officers in the Indian military-industrial complex.

In recent years, the ATV program did not receive its expected funding due to an increased provision for the development of nuclear weapons. In 1999, the Indian Defence Ministry increased funding for ATV by 15 per cent to $10 billion, with future funding guaranteed.

But reports differ on whether India has actually laid down submarines. One report suggests there are two submarines laid down at Indian shipyards with three on order. The source adds that New Delhi plans to commission its first nuclear powered-submarine by 2004.

The Russian Defence Ministry newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, reported in 1998 that Russia was helping India build a submarine hull, including fitting it with a nuclear reactor.

Some reports also suggest hulls laid down in India are near blueprints of the newest Russian attack submarine, the Severodvinsk-class, currently under construction in Arkhangelsk County. The same reports indicate submarine nuclear power installations to be beyond the capabilities of Indian designers, pointing to a need to obtain complete constructions from Russia.