Moscow: Russia could lease "several" Shchucka-B class nuclear attack submarines to India for periods of up to 10 years, a top Russian official has said. His comments come amidst much confusion as to the number of these advanced nuclear submarines that are likely to be leased out to the Indian Navy, and indeed, even if any such subs are to be leased out at all.
Reports over the years have suggested that Indian finance has been responsible for the completion of two partially constructed Schucka-B class (Akula II-NATO designation) nuclear attack submarines. These reports have never been confirmed by either of the two countries, even as reports have gone on to suggest that an Indian Navy contingent has been in training to take delivery of the first of these two submarines.
This Nerpa class submarine met with an unfortunate accident recently even as it underwent its first trials.
"Yes, there is a real possibility of leasing for ten years several of our nuclear powered multi-role submarines of Project 971 of 'Shchucka-B' class," the Director of Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) Mikhail Dmitriyev was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.
Dmitriyev also ruled out any plans by Russia to enter into similar deals with China.
"The question of supply of our multi role nuclear submarines to China does not exist, as unlike India, China never asked for them. That's why we never negotiated with China on their lease or sale," Dmitriyev said.
"This issue was also not raised at the Russian-Chinese Intergovernmental Commission session on December 11 in Beijing," he said.
Sea trials of the Nerpa submarine, to be leased to India, were interrupted when an accidental discharge of poisonous fire-fighting gas killed twenty and injured over 40 people onboard the vessel. Though prosecutors have charged a crewmember with tampering with a temperature gauge which allegedly activated automatic fire extinguishers Russian experts on weapon systems have also suggested that the sophisticated submarine control system, Molibden-I, installed on the Nerpa for the first time may have malfunctioned.
They point out that the Molibden-I is a fully digital system that has not yet been proven on any other submarine. They have said that some kind of a computer glitch could not be ruled out.
The Nerpa is the latest in a series of Schucka–B nuclear attack submarines and is being armed with a large number of new systems and technologies.
Russian experts have also refuted media reports that Russia may have decided not to lease the Nerpa to India and keep it for its own Navy. These reports gained currency after reports appeared quoting the chief of the Russian general staff Nikolai Makarov as saying that the submarine would be inducted in the Russian Navy early next year.
They explain that induction in the Russian Navy is part of the export procedure, with a shipyard handing over a vessel to the Russian Navy, which then delivers it to the navy for which it is originally intended. This may sound a bit far-fetched as similar procedures do not appear to be followed in the case of deliveries of other ships and diesel submarines.
It would appear to be a case of retracing ones steps after a period of "blow hot-blow cold" relationship that both the countries have been experiencing in recent times.
Russian experts have also ruled out the scrapping of the leasing deal. They say that after all the trouble that the Gorshkov aircraft carrier refit programme has undergone, cancellation of the submarine deal would deal a crushing blow to defence cooperation between the two countries.
They have also said that the acquisition of the Nerpa would give a quantum jump to India's naval capabilities.