Vladivostok: The Russian Amur shipyard, located in the country's Far East, said early on in the week that it had begun sea trials of a newly built nuclear-powered attack submarine, a Schucka -B or Akula II (NATO designation) class, which persistent media reporting has identified as being constructed with Indian finances prior to being given out on long lease to the Indian Navy.
The Akula II or Schucka-class vessels are considered the quietest and deadliest of Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines.
"The submarine, built under a contract with the Russian Defense Ministry, has been moved from the shipyard in Komsomolsk-on-Amur to a maintenance facility in the Primorye Territory and fitted with all necessary equipment. At present it is undergoing sea trials," a spokesman for the shipyard told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Russian media reports and analysis of Russian defence budget peculiarities have suggested that India may have advanced atleast $650 million for a 10-year lease of the 12,000-ton submarine. Possibly, even two of these submarines.
The submarine under question, the Nerpa, is expected to join the Indian Navy under the designation INS Chakra in the second half of 2009. The vessel was originally scheduled for delivery in late 2008. But all this is in the realm of media speculation for no official recognition of any such deal has ever been offered by either side.
The much spoken about Schucka-B, popularly referred to as the Akula II, is one of the most admired war machines designed by the Russian/Soviet design bureaus. It assumed near legendary status a long time back when it successfully sneaked up on the US Navy's Los Angeles class submarines without them being aware until too late.
These submarines have a double-hulled configuration with a distinctive high aft fin. The hull reportedly has seven compartments and the stand-off distance between the outer and inner hulls is considerable, reducing the possible inner hull damage.
The very low acoustic signature has been achieved by incremental design improvements to minimise noise generation and transmission – for example, the installation of active noise cancellation techniques.
The Akula II is able to dive deeper than any other modern SSN.
Whereas the Russian Navy's Akula-II submarine is equipped with 28 nuclear-capable cruise missiles with a striking range of 3,000 kilometers, the Indian version was reportedly expected to be armed with the 300 km range 3M-54 Klub nuclear-capable missiles or the joint venture BrahMos missiles.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Amur shipyard has said that the newly constructed Nerpa differs considerably from the previous Akula-class submarines. "Our Nerpa is fitted with more sophisticated navigation, sonar, and hydraulic systems," he said.
Original reports had suggested India was paying two billion dollars for the completion of two Akula-II class submarines which, at the time the Soviet Union collapsed, were anywhere between 40-60% complete. Reports also had it that at least three hundred Indian Navy personnel were being trained in Russia for the operation of these submarines.
Some may find these reports amusing as any number of Indian Navy personnel have landed on Russian shores for training and delivery of ships and submarines which have materialised only a year or so after due delivery dates.
According to some reports, the lease arrangement which India has finalised with Russia would provide India the option to buy the submarines at the end of the lease. Given the Indian experience with Russia on 'strategic' projects such reports will need to be taken with a healthy dose of salts. Indo-Russian pronouncements are inevitably grandiose and strong on sentiment and murky on details and execution.
In response to media queries if Russia would lease a nuclear submarine to India, Novosti quoted Russian defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying: "The press discusses lots of things. We do not export nuclear submarines."
India has previously leased a Charlie-I class nuclear submarine from the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991, which it re-designated as the INS Chakra.
Russia recently handed over the INS Sindhuvijay diesel-electric submarine to the Indian Navy after an inordinately long delay that has severely tested the patience of Indian Navy officials.