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India Joins the Big Boys’ Club with INS Arihant at Its Command

INS Arihant strengthens India’s naval fleet across the Indian Ocean Region, writes Vice-Admiral (R) Suresh Bangara.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read


INS Arihant strengthens India’s naval fleet across the Indian Ocean Region. (Photo: Rhythm Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)

The first indigenously built nuclear submarine Arihant has been commissioned without any fanfare. It was as silent as Arihant would be on her war patrol when she awaits the coded message received hundreds of feet beneath the sea, through a very low frequency signal transmitted by a specially designed transmitting station. Very low frequency signals are one of the primary modes of transmission which penetrate the sea without attenuation to reach its recipient operating far away from the coast and deep down in the sea. This authorisation to launch would be issued by the Nuclear Command Authority headed by the Prime Minister.

Also Read: INS Arihant DeQoded: The Final Piece in India’s Nuclear Triad

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Post-War Discussion on ‘Kirpan’

My mind races back to 1973, when a brilliant mathematician, Lt Cdr Subba Rao was the head of the electrical department of INS Kirpan, an anti-submarine frigate (warship). Her sister ship Khukri had been torpedoed and sunk off the Saurashtra coast in the 1971 war. I was just appointed as the Anti-Submarine Warfare officer after my course in 1972. In 1971, I was privileged to be on-board INS Veer, one of the three missile boats which struck ships off Karachi in December. Subba Rao often talked about future wars and how a nuclear submarine would make the navy invincible in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region).

A few years hence he volunteered to work with BARC to build a miniaturised nuclear reactor to be fitted in a submarine under the ambit of Project 932. That he was critical of the design and had to leave the DAE and later the navy, was known to many. However after his premature retirement, when he was detained at the airport before leaving for the USA, ostensibly with classified documents, the story was extensively reported by the media.

People look at a model of  INS “Khukri” in Diu during a wreath-laying ceremony   for 18   naval officers and 176 sailors   killed during the Indian-Pakistan war in 1971. (File photo: Reuters)
People look at a model of INS “Khukri” in Diu during a wreath-laying ceremony for 18 naval officers and 176 sailors killed during the Indian-Pakistan war in 1971. (File photo: Reuters)

Not many followed the story of how he fought his own case until he was proved innocent and was later released after being locked up for years. The papers in his custody were found to be unclassified and from an open source. Collateral damages do occur in highly classified projects. But perhaps he contributed to remedy some inconsistencies in the design. This is the time to remember his courage of conviction against all odds.

Also Read: India Inducts INS Arihant in Secrecy, Completes its Nuclear Triad

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A nearly 200 tonne nuclear reactor safety vessel is erected at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam,  24 June 2008. (Photo: Reuters)
A nearly 200 tonne nuclear reactor safety vessel is erected at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research at Kalpakkam, 24 June 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

Pact with Russia Helped Realise the 'Arihant' Dream

Arihant would not have been built without the close and seamless interaction among the three key players: DAE, Indian Navy and DRDO.

A timely agreement with the Soviets ensured that the design aspects were audited and a special facility at Kalpakkam was able to work on a downsized reactor. By the mid-1990s, DRDO was entrusted with the responsibility of running this project. It was headed and steered by serving naval officers assigned to the DRDO . The seamless integration was ably assisted by two critical factors:

1. The knowledge shared by seasoned scientists from Russia and,

2. The foresight and perspicacity of the naval leadership which pursued the leasing of a nuclear submarine, later named INS Chakra.

Leasing of a nuclear submarine resulted in the transfer of expertise and run this complex machine, as also the creation of shore-based special safety teams and infrastructure which had to be created on the east coast.

Currently, we have yet another nuclear submarine leased to us, a follow-on of the earlier Chakra. These could not have fructified without careful planning and the support of successive governments.
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Stages in Induction

Building a first among class warship or submarine is a lengthy process with institutional checks and balances at each stage. The keel is laid and the hull built around with essential propulsion package and auxiliaries. She is thereafter launched into water as Arihant was in 2009. Essentially all the fitting out of weapons, sensors takes place after its launch. After the installation of all the equipment and machinery, they are independently tested before the process of Harbour Acceptance Trials (HATS) commences.

On successful completion, the ship undergoes Sea Acceptance Trials which includes all aspects of shipborne systems including live firing of weapons. This phase alone would typically take close to two years. Once the ship is commissioned, her workup is undertaken by the Flag Officer Sea Training and a similar set-up for submarines. It is only when the ship is certified fit for combat operation that she is deployed with operational commands.

The above is to clarify many doubts raised by ill-informed reporters on the state of a newly inducted unit of the Navy.

Also Read: India is Far From Catching Up to China In Submarine Race

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 Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles, mounted on a truck, pass by during a full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi,  23 January, 2006. (Photo: Reuters)
Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles, mounted on a truck, pass by during a full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, 23 January, 2006. (Photo: Reuters)

Ensuring National Interest

Wars do not happen overnight. The period of tension prevailing between the two belligerents often leads to preparation and deployment. Arihant can be deployed anywhere in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea or in the Asia-Pacific region. Her endurance is limited not by logistics but by human endurance to remain submerged. Nuclear submarines neither surface nor enter the harbour and can only be detected by advanced sensors deployed by ships, submarines and aircraft. Strategically placed seabed sensors play their part as well.

The existing combination of ship launched missiles, such as Brahmos, carrier-launched aircraft, surveillance and attack capability of the P8 Maritime Patrol aircraft assisted by satellite imagery and dedicated communication satellite for the navy, is now augmented by a strategic asset which can remain over 3,000 kms from its intended target and complete her mission.

Would Aridhaman, the second in this class be followed by more such warships? Indeed, reports also indicate that the attack submarines would also be built as part of India’s plans to secure our national interests.

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One should not fall prey to frenzied worshippers who sing paeans of all our adversaries and their 'infallible machines'. India now boasts of building fast attack craft, patrol vessels, landing craft, minesweepers, amphibious vessels, frigates, destroyers, submarines, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. After all, isn’t it a feat in itself that no one else outside the big boys’ group (five members of the security council) has such capabilities?

(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command. He can be reached @scsbangara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Also Read: ‘Mission Arihant’ Accomplished, Still a Long Way to Go

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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