May 4, 2012

History in 2009 - India's Nuclear Sub (ATV) and Aircraft Carrier (ADS) Projects

India's likely homebuilt sub design - enlarged image here
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On India's long standing indigenous nuclear submarine program The Times of India, February 12, 2009 reports:
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"BANGALORE: In a boost to
India's long-standing aim to have "a nuclear weapon triad", defence minister A K Antony on Wednesday said the secretive programme to construct indigenous nuclear submarines was on the verge of completion now. "Things are in the final stage now in the ATV (advanced technology vessel) project. There were bottlenecks earlier...they are over now,"
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...The hush-hush ATV project, a euphemism for the three nuclear-powered submarines being constructed at the Visakhapatnam naval dockyard, has been dogged by a series of technical hiccups since it was formally launched as far back as 1983. The main problem has revolved around the design of miniature PWRs (pressurised water reactors) and their containment plans for the submarine's propulsion system but sources said such technical problems are a thing of the past now, with a little help from countries like Russia and France.
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...India, of course, is also trying to sort out the remaining few hitches in leasing the K-152 Nerpa Akula-II class nuclear submarine from Russia for a 10-year period, as reported by TOI earlier. India and Russia had secretly signed the deal for the Akula lease in January 2004, along with the $1.5 billion package deal for the refit of aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and 16 MiG-29K fighters to operate from it. With the two nations now negotiating the around $2 billion jump in the Gorshkov contract, there is a feeling that Russia is trying to extract more money for the Akula lease also. "We will get the Akula since we have paid money for it. We will use it to train our sailors for the eventual ATVs," said a senior Navy officer."
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Preliminary image of Air Defence Ship (ADS)/ Vikrant Class aircraft carrier]
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Also located by Kobus is another Times of India article, February 13, 2009:
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"PANAJI: The keel for India's first indigenous aircraft carrier also known as the air defence ship (ADS) [wikipedia description Vikrant Class aircraft carrier] will be laid shortly at Cochin shipyard, Kerala, said admiral Sureesh Mehta, chief of naval staff. ...Mehta said that the ADS should accommodate 20-odd aircraft [and 10 helicopters]. The original plan for the carrier, is to have the light combat aircraft (LCA) and the advanced light helicopter (ALH) Dhruv in its fleet of assorted aircraft besides MiG 29 K and Ka-31. The ADS will be launched by October 2010, as per the phase I contract signed by its manufacturer Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) with the defence ministry. While the vessel is scheduled to be launched by 2010, design work on the project is in progress and the fabrication of hull blocks has already started, reports stated. Mehta on Thursday said that the ADS would cost India around Rs 2,000 crore..."
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Comments
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India has many ambitious naval projects on the go, but the small amount of GDP earmarked for defence (estimated at 2.5% in 2006) means that progress is slow. Another factor is India's reliance on Russia to design and help build some vessels.
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It appears that Russia promised to build much of India's navy at too low a price in order to get orders and to cement its alliance with India. The most acute late and overbudget project might be the large carrier Gorshkov. Low bidding and India's traditional desire to divide its defence purchasing between Russia and Western countries meant that many "cheap, quick" projects were signed with Russia from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
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Though India is relying heavily on Russia its acquisitions from the West continue to be substantial. Indian vessels with Western input include:
- the new Vikrant class carrier being built by India was designed by Italy's Fincantieri
- the Godavari frigates are modified UK Leander class vessels.
- the Super Dvora II class Fast Patrol vessels were first bought from Israel then built in Goa
- the Sukanya Class patrol vessels (some of which apparently carry nuclear armed Dhanush missiles) were bought from South Korea.
- the Aditya and Deepak class Replishment tankers were bought from Germany.
- India's one operating carrier INS Viraat was formally HMS Hermes
- the 4 German 209 submarines were built in Mumbai and
- six French Scorpenes submarines are to be built in India.
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Russia is now finding that it itself does not have a large enough naval sector to fund completion of projects at the prices agreed. Russia has insufficient economies of scale especially for Akula class submarines - meanwhile the Gorshkov transformation is a one-off, not part of a production line. This has resulted in a lack of momentum. The gas tragedy on the Nerpa submarine appears to have delayed that leasing project - unless India pays Russia much more to revive it.
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Meanwhile a promise made mid last year that an ATV would be unveiled for public viewing for the first time during India's Republic Day (January 26, 2009) didn't occur.
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It is unknown whether the ATV will be a copy of a Russian Akula Class Submarine, a smaller derivative, or be of only 4,000 tons based on a Russian Charlie Class boat. It may well be that the ATV started development as a Charlie Class derivative and was then scaled up as an Akula derivative - big enough to accommodate a Vertical Launch System (VLS) for ballistic missiles.
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India's naval acquisition policies have not proven easy or economical due to:
- a desire for extremely complex nuclear propulsion
- development of indigenous derivatives or original designs
- one-off quick fixes,
- India cementing its strategic alliance with Russia through helping to support (using equipment purchases) Russia's problematic naval sector, and
- inadequate Indian defence funding to meet its ambitions on time.
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Meanwhile China, India's most formidable naval opponent, has already designed, built and fielded nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. China's progress may partially be explained by, or reflected in, its greater defence effort - (last estimated in 2006 to be 4.3% of GDP). China and has not relied on an ally that has problems delivering.
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Pete