Friday, April 6, 2012

INS Chakra formally joins Indian Navy today

India's silent service has just got its biggest boost in over 20 years. The arrival of INS Chakra -- an 8,000 ton sea monster -- could not have come a moment sooner.

The Russian-built nuclear-powered submarine would operate with the Indian Navy for 10 years and provide the country's arsenal a thumping new capability. Not just as a weapons platform, but a laboratory to study the intricate science of nuclear submarine warfare.

Shrouded in secrecy for years, India Today scooped the first video footage of the submarine days before the silent killer formally joins Indian Navy on April 4. The clip taken from a crew boat approaching the submarine off the Vladivostok coast and from on board the submarine itself provides a distinctive sense of this immense beast.

The commissioning of the attack submarine heralds a new beginning for the Indian Navy. After over two decades, India now steps back into an elite club of countries -- the United States, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom -- that operate nuclear submarines.

The 110 metre long Chakra is driven by a nuclear reactor giving it submerged endurance in excess of 100 days. Capable of a maximum speed of nearly 25 knots and built with a double-hull for survivability, the Chakra comes armed with ant-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air missiles while on the surface.

A decade ago, India opened talks with Russia to lease a nuclear submarine. It paid an estimated $650 million for the Russian submarine K-152 Nerpa. The Indian crew was trained in a secret facility near St Petersburg. The submarine began sea trials in 2008 and was handed over to the Indian Navy in January this year.

With a small and dwindling fleet of conventional submarines performing duties that ideally should be shared by a much larger fleet, the arrival of Chakra adds a welcome punch to the country's silent service.

India's first nuke sub in 20 years
With the Chakra now in Indian service, the navy would be fully seized of the risks of operating such a sensitive instrument of war. But with everything military, danger is always right around the corner.

INS Chakra is a phenomenal piece of underwater ferocity, a nuclear powered attack submarine armed to the teeth, silent, stealthy and a true menace to the enemy - everything that India's submarine service needs. But a nuclear submarine is a dangerous tool and India has precious little experience in operating such a complex machine.

Defence analyst Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar said, "There is an element of what you might call as risk, especially if there is an unforeseen accident. This is not war. This is when you are operating in peace time. The Russian Navy went through a very unfortunate accident and so have some others."

"But these incidents are few and far between and the Indian Navy is conscious that you need the highest level of professionalism, while operating any submarine, more so when you are operating a nuclear powered submarine," he added.

In November 2008, when K-152 Nerpa, as the Chakra was then called, was being put through sea trials in the Sea of Japan, 20 Russian sailors were killed and 21 injured when a fire suppression system discharged gas in the bow of the sub, suffocating civilian specialists and navy crew members. It was a devastating time.

Extended endurance, possibility of a nuclear accident and the inherent dangers of operating such a large submarine at great depths post ever-present dangers to submariners. More than two decades after it operated its first nuclear submarine, the Indian Navy is confident as it steps into its new role with new responsibilities.

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