The unexpected emergence of the Indian Navy’s only nuclear powered attack submarine, the INS Chakra, in the waters of the Singapore Straits heralds the end of her service in the Indian Navy.
NDTV has learned that the 8,140-ton submarine is presently en route to Vladivostok, Russia where she is being returned approximately ten months prior to the expiry of her ten-year lease that cost New Delhi approximately $2 billion. She is being operated by an Indian crew and is being accompanied by a Russian and Indian warship.
Some really exciting traffic in the Singapore Strait today, Indian Navy’s INS Chakra Akula-II-class SSN and Delhi-class DDG!! Many thanks to my fellow warship spotters @supbrow and Jaime fir heads up and company! pic.twitter.com/4d8oiMV4ck
— Olli Suorsa (@OlliSuorsa) June 4, 2021
A submarine of the Russian Akula-2 Class, Chakra was commissioned into the Indian Navy on April 4, 2012 and was based in Visakhapatnam. She was the second nuclear-powered submarine acquired by India from Russia bearing the name Chakra.
Sources tell NDTV that the early return of the submarine became necessary because of her ”increasingly unreliable powerplant and maintenance issues” besides the overall condition of the vessel which was extensively used by the Indian Navy to train crews on advanced nuclear submarines. This was a critical learning experience that paved the way for Navy officers to graduate to the made-in-India ballistic missile submarines, INS Arihant and INS Arighat, which presently form India’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
NDTV has learned that over the last decade, the Indian Navy has, on occasion, deployed the Chakra in missions to track the movement of Chinese warships and possibly submarines in the Indian Navy. The growing expansion of the Chinese Navy and its deployment in the waters of the Indian Ocean and to its base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa remains the primary concern for the Indian Navy. China has, by far, the fastest growing Navy in the world equipped with new generation nuclear submarines, cruisers and destroyers among a host of state-of-the-art warships.
INS Chakra will eventually be replaced by a more advanced variant of the same class of submarine which will also be known by the name Chakra. A $3 billion deal was signed in March 2019 for a ten-year lease for the new submarine, the delivery of which is expected by 2025. This will leave the Indian Navy without a nuclear-powered attack submarine for approximately four years.
Nuclear powered submarines lie at the core of the Indian Navy’s plans for the future. While ballistic missile submarines of the Arihant Class (a fleet of four in total is planned) will be the last line of defence in the event of a nuclear standoff, the Navy hopes to acquire six nuclear-powered attack submarines. These will be built in India, though Russia and France are seen to be likely design and development partners in what would be one of India’s most ambitious weapons development programmes. Reports suggest that the Navy has been told to prioritise the acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines ahead of a third aircraft carrier.
The news of the return of INS Chakra comes on a day when the Defence Ministry approved the construction of six diesel-electric submarines eventually worth Rs 43,000 crore. These are for non-nuclear submarines under the Navy’s P-75I project which is meant to shore up India’s dwindling submarine fleet and bring in state-of-the-art capabilities. With this clearance, the Navy will now send out a Request for Pricing to international vendors who will have to partner with an Indian company to manufacture the submarines in India. Price negotiations will then start with the shortlisted consortium before an order is placed. The first submarine under this project is not expected to enter service with the Indian Navy for at least another seven years.