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Ten Days In The Indian Navy

August 18, 2013

Indian INS Vikrant carrier 02

A chain reaction appears to have swept the Indian Navy, as momentous events occurred in quick succession.

On the evening of Friday, August 9, technicians and navy personnel activated the reactor within the INS Arihant. The 110-meter long and 6,000 ton nuclear submarine (an SSBN) is part of the Advanced Technology Vessel program between the navy and the DRDO, India’s military research arm.

Work on the Arihant began in 2006 and involved almost a dozen contractors in the public and private sector, costing an estimated $2.9 billion. By 2009 its hull, designed after the Russian Akula II-class, was completed and “launched” in a ceremony.

Last week, however, was the first time an Indian-built nuclear reactor achieved a critical level within a submarine. A reactor is critical when its neutron population is stabilized, allowing it to produce electricity. The INS Arihant, which is due sea trials this year, could enter service between 2015 and 2016. In terms of size, the Arihant is smaller than most SSBNs and possibly carries at least 12 ballistic missiles.

The INS Arihant is meant to serve as India’s second-strike platform if a nuclear exchange ever breaks out in the subcontinent.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released a glowing press statement to coincide with the INS Arihant’s breakthrough.

A weekend later the INS Vikrant was launched at its dock in the Cochin Shipyard Ltd facility.

Indian INS Vikrant carrier

The $3.8 billion INS Vikrant, named after India’s first British-made aircraft carrier that fought in the 1971 Bangladesh war, is a 37,500 ton STOBAR (short take off but assisted recovery). The Vikrant is a completed hull supporting a 262 meter runway. Once outfitted with an engine it travels at 28 knots carrying 1,600 crew and a squadron of Mig-29K fighters. It’s unclear how many additional support aircraft and helicopters it deploys with. The INS Vikrant reaches the 40,000 ton range once commissioned, the same as China’s Liaoning.

Meanwhile, news about India’s other aircraft carrier the INS Vikramaditya is scarce. The ship is still docked in Russia. On top of multiple delays, new problems over an Israeli-made anti-missile system have jeopardized its return to India.

Russian Kilo-class submarine 02

On the evening of Tuesday, August 13, INS Sindhurakshak was sunk after explosions within its hull. The diesel-powered Sindhurakshak, a Kilo-class SSK, was docked at a naval base in Delhi. The ongoing investigation points to an accident that detonated either its torpedoes or cruise missiles.

The Sindhurakshak tragedy killed 18 sailors. Six bodies have been recovered by Sunday, August 18. Officials involved have not discounted the possibility of sabotage.