Russia offers soviet era submarine to the Indian Navy

The offer of three or more ex-Soviet submarines in the short term plugs a gap in the missing numbers as the Indian Navy struggles to acquire new units.

avy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh made a low-profile three-day visit to Russia recently. Apart from attending the 325th anniversary of the Russian Navy in St Petersburg on July 25, the trip, according to one source, was “mostly about submarines”. The CNS (Chief of Naval Staff) visited the Zvezdochka shipyard in northern Russia and inspected the progress on the refit of an old Russian nuclear submarine. India and Russia concluded a $3 billion (Rs 22,000 crore) deal in 2019 for an ex-Russian Navy Akula-class nuclear powered attack submarine (SSN), to be called the Chakra-3. The cost covers the SSN’s 72-month refit and ten-year lease.

The Akula class submarine, the Bratsk, will replace the Chakra-2 which was returned to the Russian Navy after the end of its ten-year lease this year. The submarine’s crew was sent to Russia for training last year. In January 2021, Russian news agency TASS reported that the Bratsk would be delivered to India by the ‘first quarter of 2026’.

Interestingly, the Zvezdochka shipyard made a formal offer for the sale of three Kilo class conventional submarines to India at a token price of one rupee. In a presentation made to Admiral Singh, the Russian side said it wants India to pay only for the approximate $250 million refit cost of each boat (Rs 1,857 crore). India last opted for this acquisition model when it acquired the mothballed former Soviet aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov in 2004, for an eventual refit cost of over $2 billion.

The Kilo class submarine is the Indian Navy’s most numerous conventional submarine (SSK) type. It acquired ten units from the Soviet Union and Russia between 1986 and 2000. It is now down to just seven Kilos—one was lost in a 2013 accident, a second unit transferred to the Myanmar Navy last year and a third unit laid up for decommissioning this year.

The Russian offer might appear attractive to the Indian Navy, whose submarine arm is facing a crisis. Decades of indecision and the lack of a clear indigenous build programme have left the Navy critically short of submarines, both conventional and nuclear-powered. It has projected a requirement of 18 SSKs and six SSNs but has only 14 SSKs and no SSNs. It will acquire only three more SSKs this decade and will retire at least four older SSKs. On July 20 this year, India’s defence ministry floated a Request for Proposals (RFP) to build six SSKs in India under the Project 75I (P-75I) conventional submarine project. The RFP, however, is only the start of a long process of evaluating which of the two shortlisted shipyards—Mazagon Docks Ltd or Larsen&Toubro—can be given a contract. It takes six years to build a conventional submarine, and the process leading up to the contract can take as long. Even the most optimistic assessment does not see the first unit being delivered by the end of this decade.

Aware of the delays in the P-75I project, the Navy has, over the last few years, decided to extend the service lives of its existing submarines. It has sent three Kilo class submarines for a second deep refit (most submarines get only one in their service life), which will extend their service lives by 15 years. A fourth submarine is awaiting a decision on a refit.

Three or more second-hand submarines might just bridge the gap this decade. The three Kilos on offer are all over thirty years old are soon to be retired from the Russian Navy but an additional refit can add ten more years to their hull. (Russia has a fleet of 13 former Soviet Kilos built between 1988 and 1990, so more hulls could potentially be on offer.)

Because they belong to a type it already operates, the Navy will not need to create new infrastructure, revise crew training or acquire new missiles and torpedoes. This is perhaps why the Russian offer could be seen as attractive; it is the fastest way to rapidly augment declining force levels.

The flip side of the deal, however, is the age of the boats. At over 30 years each, all the units have passed their technical life of 25 years. Another refit will extend their service lives by 15 years. It could mean diverting money from the Navy’s already scarce capital acquisition budget. The longer the Navy’s other programmes take to deliver submarines, the more attractive the Russian offer will become.

Source: India Today

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