India's first indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant will finally head for the open seas for extensive trials, which will include firing of its nuclear-tipped K-15 ballistic missiles, around February-March next year.
Though long in the making, considering that India's first thought of building a nuclear submarine started way back in 1970, the sea trials of INS Arihant will mark a critical milestone towards giving some much-needed credible teeth to the country's strategic deterrence posture.
Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi on Tuesday said INS Arihant's nuclear reactor, which went "critical" on August 10, was currently undergoing a series of graduated "activities" towards attaining 100% power at Visakhapatnam. "This will be completed over the next few weeks...thereafter the submarine will go for sea trials. It has already completed harbour-acceptance trials," he said.
The Navy as well as other agencies like the Department of Atomic Energy (DEA), Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and DRDO have not been in any tearing hurry to "fully load" the 83 MW pressurized light-water reactor on board the 6,000-tonne submarine.
"This is the first time the country has built a nuclear-powered vessel. With the reactor power being raised by 5-10% at a time, the tests are being conducted in a deliberate, meticulous manner," said another top officer.
Though India has the land-based Agni missiles and fighters like Mirage-2000s to deliver nuclear weapons, its nuclear weapons triad will be completed only when INS Arihant successfully completes its sea trials spread over at least 12 months.
The K-15 missiles, with a strike range of 750-km, have only been fired from submerged pontoons till now. They will have to pass muster during INS Arihant's trials, even as DRDO develops the 3,500-km K-4 missiles.
But the Navy seems quite confident. "Let me assure you that when INS Arihant is commissioned, it will not be toothless. She will have whatever she is supposed to have," said Admiral Joshi, speaking ahead of the Navy Day on Wednesday.
As reported earlier, India is also negotiating the lease of a second nuclear-powered submarine from Russia, at a cost of about $1.5 billion, to bolster its ageing underwater combat arm. The Navy has been running INS Chakra, the Akula-II class nuclear submarine called "K-152 Nerpa", since April 2012 after paying Russia almost $1 billion for a 10-year lease. Though these submarines are nuclear-propelled, they cannot be armed with nuclear missiles due to international treaties.
Nuclear-powered submarines, armed with long-range nuclear missiles, are considered to be the most effective and difficult-to-detect leg of the nuclear triad. The US leads the pack, with around 70 such submarines. While Russia has around 30, China, the UK and France have 8-12 each. - Times of india