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Chakra Nuclear-powered Attack Submarine Inducted by Indian Navy

Recapitalizing the fleet amid declining conventional submarine force levels

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The Indian Navy (IN) once again rejoined the elite group of navies that operate nuclear-powered submarines with the recent induction of a Russian-built Akula II-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), INS Chakra (ex-RFS Nerpa K-152), into the Indian fleet on April 4, 2012.

The Chakra, which is on lease from Russia for 10 years for a reported $1 billion USD, will be under the operational control of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet. A second Akula-class boat is also being built for the Indians, although further details are not yet available.

The Chakra is a Project 971I- (NATO Akula II) class submarine whose construction was started at Komsomolsk-na-Amur, Russia, in 1993 but suspended due to a lack of funds when about 85 percent complete. The submarine was completed with some $650 million to $670 million USD in Indian funding at Vostok Shipyard in mid-2008. It is reportedly fitted with much-improved shipboard systems as well as acoustic quieting measures over extant Russian Akula-class submarines, although it lacks the distinctive SOKS self-noise monitoring sensors seen on some Russian Akula boats.

The original Chakra, a Charlie I. Here Chakra is seen sailing with the carrier INS Viraat, the ex-HMS Hermes. Photo courtesy of shaktiraj25.blogspot.com

Initially slated for transfer in late 2009, the Nerpa’s delivery timeline to the Indian Navy suffered setbacks with a series of minor and major incidents, including the accidental discharge of the on-board fire suppression system during submerged sea trials on Nov 8, 2008. Possibly triggered by an inexperienced crewman, the incident killed at least 20 people and injured 21 more, mostly shipyard employees.

After a lengthy period of repairs and trials, the submarine was handed over to the Indian Navy (IN) in December 2011. It was commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Chakra on Jan. 23, 2012 at the Zvezda Plant in Bolshoy Kamen, Primorskiy Krai, Russia, near Vladivostok. This is the second submarine to be named Chakra in Indian service. The first was a Project 670 K-43 (NATO Charlie I) that was leased from January 1987 to January 1991.

The new Chakra departed Vladivostok for Indian waters on Feb. 21, 2012. It is understood that Chakra made a 40-day, 5,000-kilometer submerged transit through the South China Seas, Lombok Straits, and the Malacca Straits en route to its homeport of Visakhapatnam. Visakhapatnam is home to the Indian Navy Eastern Naval Command as well as its Eastern Fleet.

According to Russian sources, Chakra, which has a length of 114.3 meters, a surface displacement of 8,140 tons, and a dived displacement of around 12,700 tons, is powered by a 190 megawatt (MW) pressurized water reactor that allows it to maintain submerged speeds in excess of 32 knots. The submarine has a complement of 80-100 crewmembers including a number of Russian technical specialists.

Unlike Russian Akula boats, the Chakra is fitted only with 533 mm torpedo tubes rather than the larger diameter 650 mm tubes that fire long-range cruise missiles. Instead, it is armed with torpedoes and the Klub-S family of tactical missiles – 3M14E land-attack cruise missile, 3M-54E anti-ship, and 91RE1 anti-submarine variants – in a nod to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which limits exports of missiles with a range in excess of 300 kilometers.

Chakra is reported to be powered by a 190 MW pressurized water reactor that allows it to maintain submerged speeds in excess of 32 knots. Easily seen here in the aft portion is Chakra’s towed array sonar “bulb,” characteristic of the Akula class boats. Indian Navy photo

Clearly, the induction of the Chakra is a step change for a submarine service that has seen declining force levels and reduced operational availability in recent times. With Chakra, the Indian Navy now possesses the ability to rapidly exercise sea denial at critical choke points – something that is not possible with diesel-electric submarines. “It gives us operational flexibility in our blue water operations,” said the Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Adm. Nirmal K Verma.

Currently, the IN operates 14 diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines – 10 Russian-origin Project 877 EKM (NATO Kilo) Sindhughosh class and four German-origin Type 209/1500 Shishumar class – two of which were built in India at the state-owned Mazagon Dockyard Ltd. (MDL) in Mumbai. All these submarines were acquired in the late ’80s and ’90s. Around a decade ago, the Indian submarine fleet boasted approximately 20 diesel-electric boats – the third type being older Project 641/ 641I (NATO Foxtrot)-class boats.

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