New Delhi: India's nuclear-powered submarine (SSN) programme, also commonly referred to as the advanced technology vessel (ATV) project, is expected to get a new chief sometime in the coming months. The most likely replacement for vice admiral PC Bhasin, the current director general of the highly classified ATV project, will be vice admiral AK Singh, recently retired FOC-in-C of the Indian Navy's eastern naval command, according to defence officials who did not wish to be quoted.
The ATV project, it is now being revealed, has been directly under the prime minister's oversight, and has so far been headed by retired naval officers. This subterfuge has allowed the navy, and the country's defence establishment, to feign ignorance about the existence of such a project.
Admiral AK Singh is a submariner, who, in his previous commands, has also headed the country's only tri-service Andaman and Nicobar command as well as the Coast Guard.
He also commanded the INS Chakra, the former Soviet Charlie-I class SSN, which the Indian navy leased for three years till 1991 in order to gain operational experience with nuclear powered submarines.
Reports now have it that the ATV project may be commissioned around 2011-12, following sea trials that may occur a couple of years earlier, in the 2009-11 period.
Vice admiral Bhasin, the navy's former chief of materials, had succeeded vice admiral RN Ganesh as the ATV's DG about three years ago. Admiral Ganesh was the first commander of the INS Chakra.
The oft-referred to, but never publicly acknowledged, ATV programme is being undertaken at Visakhapatnam under the joint supervision of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) ever since 1976, just two years after the country conducted its first underground atomic test.
Meanwhile, Indian defence and atomic scientists, now claim to have made the ATV's reactor "fully operational." According to reports, the 100 MW reactor developed jointly by the DAE, DRDO, and the navy, went critical in October 2004, at Kalpakkam near Chennai. Reports also suggest that a miniaturised version was now under construction for integration into the ATV at Visakhapatnam.
According to defence sources, the proto-type testing centre at Kalpakkam will be used to test the submarine's turbines and propellers, whilst a similar facility at Visakhapatnam will run trials on its main turbines and gearbox.
According to officials, enriched uranium fuel for the reactor was supplied by the Rare Materials Project (RMP) facility, based at Ratnahalli near Mysore.