Russia’s top defence industry official has said his country will help India strengthen its defence potential dented by the loss of submarine INS Sindhurakshak.

Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of defence industry, offered help to India in investigating the fatal explosion on the vessel and vowed to expand defence cooperation between the two countries.

“Whatever the outcome [of the Sindhurakshak blast probe], India remains our leading partner, not only in the off-the-shelf purchases of weapon platforms,” he said.

“India is our premier partner for the long haul in co-development of military hardware. We will help India build up its capabilities in this sphere,” Mr. Rogozin told reporters on a visit to Russia’s major nuclear submarine base in Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Peninsula, in the Far East, on Friday.

Experts see three ways how Russia could help India enhance its submarine fleet strength, which has now been reduced to 13 vessels and is set to decline further as the Indian Navy prepares to phase out ageing submarines.

Russian shipbuilders have offered to carry out life extension repairs to the nine Kilo class submarines in the Indian Navy inventory, which have a service life of 25 years with one midterm repair.

“We think it would be advisable to undertake a second mid-term repair that will add another 5 to 7 or even 10 years to the submarines’ scheduled service life,” Andrei Dyachkov, then Director-General of Sevmash shipyard, told The Hindu earlier this year.

Russia also plans to field its latest Amur-1650 submarines in the Indian Navy tender for six new diesel-electric submarines due to be floated shortly.

However, according to a leading Russian arms and armoury expert, the long-term solution for India would be to switch from diesel to nuclear-powered submarines.

“I think the era of diesel submarines is drawing to a close for the Indian Navy,” said Konstantin Makienko, deputy Director of the CAST defence think tank. “India has technological, scientific and financial capabilities to acquire and operate nuclear submarines. Diesel submarines are needed for countries like Russia that have shallow inland seas, or have political constraints, like Japan.”

Mr. Makienko suggested that India could lease from Russia two or three Akula II nuclear submarines in addition to INS Chakra inducted last year.

“With three or four nuclear submarines in its inventory, the Indian Navy would be in a position to keep permanent presence in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and train crews for indigenously built nuclear submarines,” he said.