Indian Nuclear Submarine Fleet Development Program: Russian Participation

PIR Arms Control Letters, Letter Of March 1999
© PIR Center. March 15, 1999

 
Arms Control Letters Arms Control Letters is a monthly newsletter of the PIR-Center for Policy Studies in Russia, sent to the e-mail boxes of the world leading experts in the field of arms control, nonproliferation and international security.
 
 
According to our experts, among all perspective military projects in India, the largest one is a build-up of the Navy, especially its nuclear submarine component.
 
By 2004, India is expected to accomplish a large ship-building program aimed at creation of national nuclear submarine fleet. New Delhi plans to have five nuclear submarines capable of carrying missiles with nuclear warheads. In this connection, Indians being strongly oriented in their military development to technical cooperation with Russia, were reported as willing to purchase ships and equipment from their key partner. At the moment, according to some Russian and foreign experts, the national program for development of sea-based missile Sagarica (meaning "oceanic" in Hindi) is still a far cry. Sagarica appears to be an anti-ship underwater-launched cruise missile being developed with direct participation of certain Russian design offices.
 
According to the First Scientific Research Institute of the Russian Navy in St. Petersburg studying development trends of Russian and foreign naval forces, the Indian Navy have been built up as follows: in 1950-1968, India mainly acquired surface warships decommissioned from the British Navy. In 1968-1971, it started buying weapons and military equipment >from the USSR and developing self-dependent production of certain items. Within that period, India purchased from the USSR 8 submarines of I641 and I641K series (in 1967-1974), 8 corvettes of 159 AE series (in 1969-1974), 8 guided missile boats of 205E series and several auxiliary ships. Within 1968-1975, with the technical assistance of British companies Vickers and Jarrow, India initiated building of 6 Leander type frigates at Mazagon shipyard in Bombay.
 
The next period of Indian Navy reinforcement began in 1983-1990, when it purchased from the USSR five destroyers of 61ME series (in 1983-1988), three corvettes of 1234E series (in 1983-1984), six base type minesweepers of 1258E series (in 1983-1984), 8 submarines of 877EKM series (in 1985-1990), and from West Germany - four 209/1500 type submarines, two of which were built at Howaldtwerke shipyard in Germany, and two others - at Mazagon shipyard in Bombay with German technical assistance.
 
At present, the Indian Navy has all major types of warships: aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates, armed with missile and artillery or only artillery weapons, antisubmarine corvettes, diesel powered submarines, missile and conventional type boats, minesweepers. According to Russian military experts, Indian leadership considers Navy as one of the main tools for turning the country into a leading regional power, and is prepared to use every effort to reach that target.
 
At the same time, the declared peacetime mission of the Indian Navy is the protection of the 12-mile territorial waters and 200-mile economic zone. In case of war, the Indian Navy should be ready to counteract operations of its neighbors, i.e. Pakistan and China. Therefore, the top-priority agenda of naval development for the nearest future includes increasing of the number of warships and their modernization, as well as technical improvement of weapons and Navy equipment.
 
These plans are based on India's willingness to build the lacking ships on its own at national shipyards or buy them abroad. At that, Indians do not rule out the possibility of purchasing not only ships, but also technical documentation for their production under license. The only difficulty impeding implementation of these plans is insufficient development of certain key industries like non-ferrous metallurgy and electronics, poor industrial equipment, low productivity, research and development. These are the problems that stipulate for the necessity of purchasing modern ships, weapons and new military technologies from abroad, and from Russia in particular.
 
The backbone of Indian submarine forces is nine diesel powered submarines of 877 EKM series (Kilo class by NATO classification) designed by Rubin design office in St. Petersburg, and several similar type submarines of 209/1500 type, built by German JKL company. At present, the government enterprise Admiralteiskiye Verfi (St. Petersburg) finishes building of the tenth Kilo-class submarine for the Indian Navy. This ship will include certain innovations enhancing its combat capabilities. First of all, it will be armed with Biryuza anti-ship subsonic cruise missile system.
 
On December 26, 1997, the same enterprise started building two diesel powered submarines of new generation (Amur-1650 series) for the Russian and Indian Navy. The concept used in Amur series enables various modifications of the ship through variation of its armament and the use of anaerobic power plants. All those issues have been discussed with Indian Naval Command and it was agreed that the warships would be built not only in Russia, but also at Indian shipyards under license.
 
Such is the official aspect of military cooperation of the two countries. Still, according to the estimates of some of the experts involved, its shaded area is none the less important, and it deals with India's desire to have nuclear submarines.
 
There are different versions of what is going on in this sphere. One of them belongs to Rear Admiral Vyacheslav Apanasenko, the acting Chief of Staff, Deputy Chief of the Department of Shipbuilding, Weapons and Operation of the Russian Navy. According to him, there were no deals with India in the field of leasing Russian nuclear submarines recently, and the Russian Government got no official requests from India on the part, and 'there can be no activities on preparing nuclear submarines for rent or sale without routine bureaucratic formalities'.
 
Last time, the issue of leasing nuclear submarines was raised in the late 1980s. Then, in January of 1988, India rented the Soviet nuclear powered attack submarine of 670A Skat series (Charlie class by NATO classification) with eight Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship missile launchers for three years. In the Indian Navy, the ship was called Chakra. The submarine was manned by a Russian crew training Indian seamen to operate it.
 
670 Skat project (nuclear powered submarine with cruise missiles) was started in 1960 in Gorky by Lazurit design office headed by Chief Designer V.P. Vorobyov. Skat having 4,980-ton displacement and 100-men crew was the first Soviet nuclear powered submarine armed with Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship underwater-launched missiles with the flight range of 120 km, manufactured by NPO Mashinostroyeniya. The submarine could be used in combat operations against aircraft carriers and other big warships, transports and escort ships at oceanic and sea lanes.
 
The main armament of the ship included 8 Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship missile launchers, capable of carrying nuclear warheads and mounted outside the firm hull (four on the starboard and four on the port side). Four 533-mm and four 400-mm torpedo launchers were placed in the submarine bow. Target designation for the anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes was provided by Kerch hydro-acoustic system. The submarine was equipped with a surface buoy-type antenna ensuring reception of radio messages, target parameters and satellite navigation signals while being at a big underwater depth.
 
The distinctive features of the design were a fusiform hull as well as a single-shaft, single-reactor (VM-4 type water-cooled and water-moderated reactor) low-noise 19,000-hp power plant. The speed of the submarine was 26 knots submerged. Successful technical solution combined with optimized weapons system enabled the ship to efficiently place fire at air attack groups and easily penetrate enemy's anti-submarine defense lines. It were those high performance characteristics that attracted attention of the Indian naval officers who were choosing a nuclear submarine most appropriate for the Indian Navy. Later, Skat became not only training ground for the Indian Navy personnel, but a design laboratory for developing and testing indigenous nuclear submarine technologies.
 
Upon expiration of the ship leasing term in 1991, the submarine was returned to Russia and decommissioned from the Russian Navy. Officially, since that time there were no talks on further cooperation in that sphere. However, the fact of India's leasing nuclear submarine is noteworthy and deserves a more detailed study, for it were Russian seamen who taught Indians to operate the submarine, and the former apprentices have taken key posts in Indian design offices developing nuclear submarines.
 
The nuclear submarine development program has been implemented in a number of scientific research centers of the country: New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Vizag. The code name of the project is Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). So far, the program has been under-financed and moving up too slowly, but since India performed a series of nuclear tests, it enjoys a growing interest and Indian military have succeeded in getting the 15% increase in the defense budget for 1998-1999. Today, it totals 412 billion rupees or $10 billion. Such tremendous financial support of the Indian military program has resulted in the beginning of a new series of five nuclear submarines at national shipyards, two of which will be launched already in 2004.
 
The Indian nuclear powered attack submarine has about 4,000-ton displacement and a single-shaft nuclear power plant of Indian origin. In due time, India bought from Canada the license for production of nuclear reactors, and reportedly it can be used for manufacturing nuclear power plants for submarines. Apparently, the rest submarine characteristics will be similar to 670 series, which allows to predict specifications of the weapons systems to be used. If we assume that so far India has no indigenous anti-ship cruise missiles and the submarine is being built with participation of a Russian design office as a consultant, all major weapons systems may be of Russian origin.
 
Nowadays, the government-owned company Rosvooruzheniye exports a number of sea-based cruise missiles. The first in the list is the 3M-80 Moskit anti-ship supersonic cruise missile (SS-N-22 Sunburn) being sold only as the armament for Sovremenny type destroyers of 956 series, which can be used only on the surface. The second item is the Kh-35 (SS-N-25) anti-ship subsonic cruise missile (similar to American Harpoon cruise missile), meant to be used with small guided missile boats. The third item is already mentioned Biryuza anti-ship cruise missile; still, due to its short range, it is considered as a submarine self-defense weapon rather than an attack missile.
 
In theory, to gain the highest efficiency from the use of anti-ship cruise missiles meaning the best attack results and effective penetration through the air defense system of a modern surface ship, it is necessary to launch at least eight missiles simultaneously. In a submarine modification, Biryuza missile system has only two launchers.
 
Therefore, the most probable missile for the Indian submarine would be the actively promoted at all international exhibitions Yahont anti-ship cruise missile designed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya, the above-mentioned manufacturer of all major Russian sea-based anti-ship cruise missiles. Yahont meets all principal requirements to anti-ship missiles of the fourth generation: low weight and dimensions (8 missiles can be placed in the hull of a slightly modernized Amur-class submarine, or it can replace four P-15 Termit (SS-N-2a Styx) anti-ship cruise missiles on boats of 205 series), uses the Stealth technology, has supersonic flight speed and a completely independent guidance system based on the fire-and-forget concept.
 
Yahont is an operational missile designed for hitting complex sea-based and inshore targets. A ship armed with Yahont missiles can carry out combat operations against single middle class ships (e.g. destroyers) or carrier battle groups of the enemy.
 
The flight speed of Yahont missile is 2.5 Mach number (similar to Moskit (SS-N-22 Sunburn) missile), and the range is about 300 km (or 120 km at altitudes 5 to 15 m). A regular midcourse phase of the flight occurs at 15 km.
 
Yahont is aimed by an inertial guidance system based on preset target location data. At a pre-calculated flight point (25-80 km), a brief turn-on of the homing scanner occurs, resulting in exact determination of target location. Next time, the homing system turns on when the missile leaves the radio horizon and loses its altitude to 5-15 m, i.e. a few seconds before hitting the target.
 
Missile designers assume that the enemy would detect the launch of the missile at the distance of 300 km and take measures to destroy it. However, being resistant to jamming, having the flight velocity of 750 m/s and making complex maneuvers during flight, Yahont cruise missile shall anyway reach the target. There are no effective means of defense against this Russian missile in naval forces of the world.
 
It is not the high speed or jamming protection that make Yahont the advanced weapon system. Its major advantage, not too much advertised by NPO Mashinostroyeniya representatives, is the guidance system which has accumulated all NPO experience in developing electronic systems of artificial intelligence, enabling to fight against single warships (one missile - one ship) or a group of ships (a flock against a group). It is salvo launching that shows all unsurpassed tactical capabilities of the Russian weapon.
 
The missiles allocate and range targets by their importance and choose the attack implementation plan. The independent control system keeps in memory not only the electronic counter- and countercountermeasures (ECM and ECCM) data, but also the methods of evading the fire of enemy's air defense systems. Having destroyed the main target in a group of ships, the missiles left attack other ships of the group, eliminating the possibility of using two missiles on one target.
 
Nuclear powered submarines being built at Indian shipyards allegedly resemble by their body outlines the Russian fourth generation submarine Severodvinsk designed by Rubin design office in St. Petersburg. This vessel is being constructed for the Russian Navy at Severny machine-building plant in Severodvinsk.
 
The same plant is now busy with repairing two Indian diesel-powered Kilo-class submarines. Certainly, one can't be sure that these facts are somehow correlated, but if we assume that they are, then India is presumably prepared to acquire or already has acquired technical documentation for building ships like those designed by Rubin. In that case, India has to purchase also the Yahont anti-ship cruise missiles, designed specifically for Severodvinsk type nuclear submarines.
 
The presence of nuclear powered submarine of the fourth generation equipped with Yahont cruise missiles in the Indian Navy would enormously raise its technical capabilities. Neither country in the region would have so powerful and well-armed warships. China being a most likely rival of New Delhi in the arms and economic race, even having Sovremenny type destroyers with 8 Moskit anti-ship cruise missiles (SS-N-22 Sunburn), aircraft carriers and diesel powered Kilo-class submarines in its navy forces, could not compete with the Indian Navy.
 
After India has informally joined the nuclear club, it strives for possessing not only tactical nuclear weapons jeopardizing interests of Pakistan and China. Military experts assume that the wish to purchase nuclear powered attack submarine is caused by the Indian desire to represent real power in the political dialogue with the USA. Having warships with unlimited range armed with powerful missile weapons capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the Indian Navy will play an important role over the world's sea-lanes.
 
Thirty years of Russian-Indian military and technical cooperation have determined the process of weapons systems development of our Asian partner. Military experts emphasize that the Indian military step by step repeat all development stages of the Russian Armed Forces. If we follow this logic, then we should remember that the idea of using nuclear powered submarines with cruise missiles in the Russian Navy has always been linked with their number, i.e. there should be enough submarines to counteract each enemy's carrier battle group. The Soviet Union had to build about 20 ships to provide for efficient deterrence of US carrier battle groups. But even for the USSR building nuclear submarines one by one, getting of two nuclear submarines with cruise missiles on board used to cost more than one aircraft carrier of Admiral Kuznetsov type. In this connection, questionable is the adequate financing of ambitious Indian naval projects.
 
Another important issue in the task of deterring the US Navy has always been the fact that any sea target is mobile and can easily change its position. Due to this, the USSR had to deploy a large-scale satellite system for sea observation and target location, because successful use of anti-ship cruise missiles assumes having real-rime target data. Only in that case the missile weapon becomes really efficient. India has no space segment, yet strives for its creation. Should this happen, Indian nuclear submarines would become a political pressure instrument, as New Delhi dreams. So far it is only the first trial of strength in developing an ideal carrier for nuclear weapons, equally irritating all members of the nuclear club.
 
According to information available to our experts, interested in purchasing Russian nuclear submarines are other countries besides India, like China, Brazil and South Korea (in the last case, the USA will probably block this contract). Should these agreements be signed and approved at the higher political level, they would be implemented by the two major submarine design offices of Russia, i.e. Rubin and Lazurit.
 
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