Russia has formally handed over the Nerpa, an Akula class nuclear submarine, to India.
The Nerpa, along with a second Akula submarine to be handed over shortly, will be leased to India for ten years in a deal thought to be worth $2 billion.
Under the terms of the deal, once the ten year deal expires, India has an option to then buy the two submarines outright.
In a ceremonial handover attended by the Indian ambassador, the Indian flag was raised over the submarine – now rechristened the INS Chakra – and control was handed entirely to its Indian crew who, for the first time, set sail without any Russian technical specialists on board.
The Nerpa’s troubled history
Construction of the Nerpa actually began in 1993, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but was suspended shortly afterwards for lack of funding. It wasn’t until 2004, when an agreement was reached to lease the submarine to India, that construction started again.
The submarine had been due to be transferred to India in 2009, but its transfer was delayed after 20 crewmen were killed in an accident during its sea trials when the Nerpa’s fire suppression system was accidentally set off. Freon gas released by the fire suppression system displaced oxygen from an isolated compartment, suffocating all the crew in the area.
The disaster was blamed on a member of the crew who activated the fire suppression system without authorisation. However, the quality of the construction work was criticised after the accident for being poor. Although many submarines were constructed at the Amur shipyard during the 1980s, the Nerpa was the only one built between 1993 and 2008. Because of the lack of work, many of workers with specialised skills had either left or retired, leaving the construction to a relatively inexperienced workforce. Concerns were also expressed that the metals used in the Nerpa were not good enough quality, having been bought from China at a low cost.
Close Russia-India ties
The Nerpa deal is also indicative of increasingly strong ties between India and Russia. As well as this submarine deal, India and Russia have also agreed a number of other major arms sales, including the sale of the Russian Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier, which is due to enter service in the Indian Navy in 2013 as the INS Vikramaditya.
Ordinarily, you would expect a country like India to have the patience to wait a few years until its own technology enters service, but its local situation is very unstable – as well as the well-known tensions with Pakistan, there has been a rapid buildup of naval power by most countries in the Asia-Pacific and as one of the two major countries in the region, India has to take care not to be left behind.
As a consequence, many of these deals – such as the Nerpa deal – are designed as a stop-gap to boost the Indian military while it develops technology of its own. The Arihant, an Indian developed and built class of nuclear submarines, is due to enter service in the next few years.