September 29, 2015
US and France in Talks with India to Assist India's Nuclear Submarine Program
India's indigenous nuclear testbed submarine INS Arihant. Structure incorporates some Russian and possible French features. Reactor draws on much Russian assistance.
Russia has leased INS Chakra II to India. But Chakra's large size and much aging technology may well encourage India to seek French and US help to build a smaller, more modern, SSN.
Please connect with Submarine Matters Indian Submarine Propulsion Reactor Needs - Arihant, Aridhaman & Chakra II, October 4, 2015.
India’s news provider The Economic Times (see specific article link below) has reported early discussions of US and French shipbuilders with India regarding possible future assistance for India’s nuclear propelled attack submarine (SSN) program.
The Economic Times article has sufficient detail and the tone to be credible. This is unexpected news. While there have been rumours over the years that France assisted India with some structural features of nuclear submarine Arihant, Russia has been India’s more obvious source of nuclear assistance.
Over the years Russia:
- Leased INS Chakra I (a Russian Charlie class SSGN in 1988-91).
- Assisted India with the reactor and structure for the Arihant – a nuclear propelled testbed submarine, and
- Has leased to India INS Chakra II - a Russian Akula class multi-purpose nuclear submarine, from 2011 for a 10 year period.
The reasons for the Chakra II lease may be for Indian crew and technicians to gain nuclear experience, probably working with Russian advisers, probably with some technology transfer. Chakra II is most likely non-operational. As Chakra II weighs 8,000 tons (surfaced) it is probably too heavy (with construction and maintenance costs too high) to be a prototype SSN for India. As the Chakra II-Akula class is a 30 year old design its technology may be too dated and loud in operation to be used as India's model SSN - to launch a class of 6 Indian SSNs over the next 20 years. Russia’s much more modern Yasen class SSGN also suffers from being 8,000 tons (surfaced) probably too heavy for India’s budget or needs.
As well as selling nuclear technology to India France may see the technology as a sweetener for France to win the Project-75I tender for 6 AIP SSKs. In doing so France could head-off any Russian strategy to offer further nuclear submarine assistance jointly with 6 Kilos or Amur SSKs to India for Project-75I. France’s Barracuda SSN (see the article below) would be more the size, 4,765 tons (surfaced), and modernity that India wants in an SSN.
The US has much submarine technology (eg. sonars, combat system features, better reactors and vertical launch systems) that India would find attractive. This is also in the context of India now being the US’s second largest conventional weapons buyer.
Biswajit Pattanaik in Comments [Oct 2, 2015 8:42PM] advised concerning:
- French assistance with sub-systems for Arihant class SSBN from Coyard of France joint venture wiuith FlashForge (FF) an Indian company for supplying customised valves, pipings & fittings for submarines (including the Arihant calss S2/S3/S4 SSBNs).
- Another joint venture between FF & Nereides (French) to provide the towed array antenna and
- SAGEM of France providing their SIGMA 40 ring laser gyro inertial navigation system (RLG-INS) for the Submarine
Biswajit also advised US based L-3 KEO owned RIVA Calzoni (Italy based) have provided non-hull penetrating masts & periscopes.
If the talks with the US and France concerning SSNs fall through, India may always gain in terms of leveraging more sensitive nuclear submarine technology from Russia. Any Russian, US or French technical assistance for an Indian SSN would also flow through to India’s SSBNs which are still under development.
Submarine Matters article India's Unnamed Project for 6 SSNs Begins, May 29, 2015 carried an Indian report that India wanted 6 SSNs, mainly based in or near Visakhapatman (the main naval base on India’s east coast) orientated against the geostrategic threat from China. Such a threat would probably come from Chinese SSNs and SSBNs and perhaps eventually Chinese carrier groups.
Issues for Australia
For Australia the prospect of the US and France helping regional power India with key nuclear technology is less of a proliferation worry because India already has nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons. It is hoped that India would not use its nuclear submarine force to dominate the Indian Ocean in ways detrimental to Australia.
If talks eventually lead to a joint US-France-India build of a small, more economical, SSN then that may be a much more useful future nuclear propelled submarine to sell to Australia than the overly large and crew intensive Virginia SSN or limited reactor Barracuda SSN. Of course Australia is not contemplating buying nuclear submarines for the foreseeable future.
Manu Pubby, Economic Times (ET) Bureau, 28 September, 2015, reports http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/india-may-get-us-french-cos-as-partners-for-building-nuclear-submarines/articleshow/49131287.cms
India may get US, French cos as partners for building nuclear submarines
NEW DELHI: For the first time India has options when it comes to finding a partner to build a military nuclear asset. Besides Russia, ship builders from France and the US have started initial conversations with the defence ministry on participating in an Indian effort to build a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines
Russia has been the traditional ally of India when it comes to sensitive technology and strategic systems
But a Navy plan for constructing six new nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) to patrol the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and beyond has prompted 'discussions' with the two western nations, sources familiar with the development told ET. The Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared Navy's proposal in February.
The Indian SSN project — expected to cost over Rs 1 lakh crore [more than US$5 Billion] — is an ambitious plan to design and produce a nuclear attack boat with the help of the private sector. If this materialises, it will propel India into a select league of the five nuclear powers that have such a capability. SSNs are nuclear powered submarines, but do not carry nuclear warheads, relying instead on conventional weapons and stealth to hunt ships and other submarines. The last country to enter this club was China in 1974 with its Han class boats.
Sources told ET that senior representatives from the submarine branch of a leading US conglomerate have met key Indian defence ministry officials regarding the project. The efforts included a top level meeting in July. The discussions have been kept low key given the sensitivity of the project and details are not available.
Similarly, French representatives have also approached the Indian side for exploring avenues for cooperation on the project in the past few months. While the French submarine manufacturer has not commented on the project, the Indian side is interested in the new 'Barracuda' SSN being developed by French ship builder DCNS. A senior DCNS representative refused to take questions on the matter.
The new nuclear submarine for the French Navy is currently under construction and is expected to start sea trials by next year. The Barracuda was also showcased at the Defence Expo held in New Delhi last year. As reported by ET, India is also in talks with Russia to lease a nuclear attack submarine — a newly built, customised boat that could give engineers a first-hand look at construction technology and process.”
Unlike a nuclear missile armed submarine (SSBN) that is designed to carry out a nuclear strike, nuclear propelled attack boats (SSNs) are considered less sensitive, with their primary role being hunting vital enemy naval ships and submarines. While foreign assistance on SSBNs is a complex matter, there have been examples of nations sharing non-nuclear technology for SSNs. France is at present assisting Brazil with its first nuclear submarine project. The deal involves France helping Brazil with the non-nuclear components of the submarine, with the South American nation using its own reactor and fuel.
India's first SSBN, the INS Arihant, is currently undergoing sea trials in Vizag. It is expected to carry out a weapons test shortly. The only SSN in service with the Navy at present is the INS Chakra, an Akula class submarine on a 10 year lease from Russia to train Indian crew for such operations.
Please link with:
- India's Unnamed Project for 6 SSNs Begins, May 29, 2015
- India's RisingNuclear and Conventional Submarine Force, May 21, 2015, and
- Pace of India’s nuclear submarine program, Arihant, Chakra, April 10, 2015.
Posted by Peter Coates