At a time when diminishing operational availability of its conventional submarine fleet has put the Navy in dire straits, it has some reason to cheer.

Informed sources told The Hindu that the construction of a second Arihant-class nuclear submarine, to be named INS Aridaman, is moving fast at the Shipbuilding Centre (SBC) in Visakhapatnam. It is slated for launch by this year-end or in the first quarter of next year.

“The boat, under outfitting now, is headed for a year-end launch. Meanwhile, hull fabrication is on for the third Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine,” the sources said. “Unlike surface vessels, submarines are fully outfitted before launch, which makes it a prerequisite for its weapons to be tested and ready well in advance.”

The first submarine of the class, INS Arihant, launched in July 2009, has just completed its harbour acceptance trials and is set to undergo the crucial sea acceptance trials in February.

“This will be followed by weapon trials before the submarine is formally inducted into the Navy, hopefully in 2013, when the country will attain the much-desired nuclear triad,” the sources said. Concurrently, nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, borrowed on a 10-year lease from Russia mainly for training purposes, will be inducted in the latter half of 2012.

Troubled by the eroding strength of its conventional underwater arm, the Navy's ‘blue water' aspirations remained in the realm of wishful thinking, with the force failing to add even a single submarine to its inventory in the last decade.

With the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme to indigenously design and build nuclear-powered attack submarines gaining momentum after years of indecision and disorientation in the 1990s, the goal, claimed the sources, was within reach now.

Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma said last year that once commissioned, INS Arihant would be deployed on ‘deterrent (combat) patrol.'

Although it would be home-ported in Visakhapatnam, the submarine, armed with nuclear-tipped K-15 or B-5 ballistic missiles and having a range of about 750 km, would offer effective deterrence against Pakistan, the sources pointed out.

The missiles are developed under the Sagarika programme.

Displacing about 6,000 tonnes, the 112 metre-long Arihant-class of boomer submarines are powered by indigenously-built 80-MW nuclear power plants. Each submarine is said to store 12 K-15 missiles besides torpedoes and torpedo-launched cruise missiles.

Obsolete fleet

While the ATV project is on track, the Navy finds its back against the wall having to operate a flagging fleet of Russian Kilo-class and German HDW conventional diesel-electric submarines, 14 in all, 75 per cent of which are over the hill.

“The decline in the operational availability of submarines [as low as 40 per cent] has seriously compromised the force's vital sea denial capability. The absence of Air Independent Propulsion, which obviates the need for conventional submarines to surface frequently for recharging their batteries thereby enhancing their endurance is another debilitating factor,” said the sources.

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