N-submarine may be operational by 2012
[ 18 Mar, 2007 2329hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
NEW DELHI: After a series of technical hiccups, India's long-running project to build nuclear submarines is finally gaining momentum. As per the revised target, the Navy is likely to get the first such operational submarine by 2012.
Sources said this was the "general assessment" at a top-level meeting to review progress of the hush-hush Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme on Friday, which was attended by defence minister A K Antony, among others.
Though official word is hard to come by on the secretive ATV project, which formally kicked off in 1983 but has made excruciatingly slow progress since then, it's learnt that the first prototype of the nuclear-powered guided-missile attack submarine would be "launched" in the "near future".
"And if there are no more hitches, the first of the two ATVs should be ready for being commissioned into Navy by 2011-2012. The overall project cost has been hiked by 30% to take it to around Rs 14,000 crore, with ultimately five ATVs planned by around 2025," said a source.
The work on the ATV project revolves around the Vishakhapatnam naval dockyard, where the basic submarine hull and structure are fabricated, and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, where PWRs (pressurised water reactors) for the submarine's propulsion system are tested.
One of the main reasons for the long delay has been the technical problem of designing and fitting a miniaturised PWR and its containment vessel in the submarine's hull. After the PWRs designed by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre failed to pass muster, India had turned to Russia for two 90-megawatt PWRs and related parts. There are also some Israeli, French and German imprints in the project.
"There were some problems with the integration of the Russian PWRs also. Work is now going ahead with a mixed design for the propulsion system," said the source.
The entire aim behind the ATV programme is to have nuclear-powered submarines, armed with nuclear-tipped cruise or ballistic missiles, to ensure "credible" second-strike capabilities in consonance with India's "no-first use" nuclear doctrine.
Nuclear-powered submarines have higher speeds and can stay submerged much longer than conventional diesel-electric submarines - which have to surface or snorkel frequently to get oxygen to recharge batteries - and thereby provide a much more invulnerable launch pad for nuclear weapons.
Though India already has nuclear-capable aircraft and mobile land-based missiles like Agni-I and Agni-II, it's hoped the ATV project will finally provide it with the third leg of the nuclear triad.