July 17, 2015

Can't make guns but dream of fast submarines afloat

Just click and it will be here, floating, sailing, dunking, diving and firing.
What did you think? A submarine?
Think half-a-dozen.

India is planning to make six nuclear submarines superfast.
India can't even make a gun.
On a pontoon, a ballasted float, by a pier in the naval dockyard through Lion's Gate in South Mumbai, the remains of a submarine lie mute witness to testimony of such folly.
The INS Sindhurakshak was good to sail till it blew itself up. No less than 18 souls perished with it.
Vice-admiral P. Murugesan, the vice-chief of naval staff, confirmed yesterday that the navy was wanting the six nuke subs but was undecided on what to do with the Sindhurakshak: reconfigure it as a museum or use it as a dive platform.
"We do not want it wasted," said he. "We want it to be used".
In New Delhi, the naval headquarters is in a landlocked capital. Its geography also shuts the mind to matters maritime. What happens in the waters around India is of concern only when there is a 26/11 - the seaborne terror strike on Mumbai in 2008.
Shutting of minds leads to flights of fancy. FoF (flights of fancy) is often confused with DoI (depths of idiocy). When it comes to submarines, the depth really matters: the Narendra Modi government has mandated the making of six nuclear submarines, all of them in India.
The Indian Navy is indeed operating two nuclear submarines today. An SSN and an SSBN. The INS Chakra, the SSN (sub-surface nuclear), has been leased from Russia for 10 years. India plans to lease another of its type.
An SSN is nuclear-powered and therefore has great endurance to stay under water. The more a submarine is under the surface, the less detectable it is.
The second submarine the Indian Navy is operating is the Arihant, the SSBN (sub-surface ballistic nuclear). An SSBN is not only nuclear-powered, it can also fire missiles with nuclear warheads.
This is supposed to be India's "second strike capability". Meaning, in the event of a nuclear missile/bomb attack, the Arihant will respond with devastating force.
The Arihant is still going through trials in waters off Visakhapatnam. It has not yet been commissioned into service. Chances are that political decibel will overcome strategic vision and Prime Minister Modi will shortly claim credit for the Arihant's commissioning.
The Arihant has been built over 30 years under a secretive programme till now known as the "ATV", short for Advanced Technological Vehicle/Vessel. It is manned by the navy but is commanded by the Prime Minister's Office.
Navy vice-chief P. Murugesan said the six nuclear submarines - SSNs - that the Modi government has sanctioned would be built in less than half that time.
"The pioneers (of nuclear submarines) have take 15 years or more to make them. I'm sure we will do it sooner," he said.
In the Arihant, the SSBN that is going through trials in the Bay of Bengal, it took about six years to integrate the nuclear reactor into the submarine's housing. The 90MW reactor was built at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu, and it's transportation to Vizag took far less time than its re-engineering did. That was done by Russian specialists.
In the six nuclear submarines that the Modi government wants faster than the Rajdhani Express, the navy's design bureau - a gem really - is wanting desire like desperation.
The navy's submarine fleet is down to just 12. China has more than 60 submarines. Pakistan has five brand new from France. At any given time, the Indian Navy cannot bank on more than six or seven submarines being fully operational.
But it need not worry: there is a fleet of boats on the way. They are collectively called the INS Jumla.


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