Russia has quietly agreed to lease out a second nuclear attack submarine of the Akula class to India this month in a deal worth around $2 billion. The lease of the first Akula-class submarine that the Indian Navy calls INS Chakra expires in 2021.
The lease deal for the second nuclear submarine was finalised at a summit-level meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The attack submarine will arrive in Indian waters in 2020-21. The decision to acquire a second Russian nuclear submarine on lease was taken after India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine INS Arihant was quietly commissioned days before the September 18 Uri terrorist attack. The 6,000-tonne indigenous nuclear submarine that can fire nuclear ballistic missiles up to a range of 3,500- km was commissioned in secret even as Pakistan Defence Minister Khwaja Asif was invoking in public the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against India.
The Akula-class submarine is nuclear powered but is armed with conventional land attack missiles. The Arihant, however, is part of India’s nuclear triad with Agni V missiles and aircraft-delivered nukes making up the other two legs. Given the sharp variation of temperatures with depth in Indian waters, the difficulty of detecting the Arihant makes it a potent weapon.
It is understood that Arihant has already been operationally deployed. The second indigenous nuclear submarine of the same class, INS Aridhaman, will slip into the water in 2018. Powered by an 83 MW miniaturized reactor which went critical on August 10, 2013, the Arihant had to undergo extensive diving and missile firing trials.
Pakistan does not have a nuclear submarine, and thus lacks a nuclear triad. China has four nuclear-powered submarines in operation, a number that will go up to six in a couple of years. China’s N-subs carry a version of the Dong Feng nuclear missile that has a range of up to 7,000 km.