The bigger, improved & better-armed Arighat is in the final stages of sea trials. It is likely to be commissioned into service in Indian Navy next year

The bigger, improved and better-armed Arighat is in the final stages of sea trials and is likely to be commissioned into service early next year. After teething troubles, India’s nuclear submarine programme — the country’s costliest defence project, monitored directly by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval — has made big strides in recent years.

Indian Navy To Get 2nd Nuclear SSBN Arighat

In October 2018, the veil of secrecy around the programme was lifted for the first time when India acknowledged that INS Arihant, its first SSBN — a nuclear-powered submarine equipped with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles — had completed its first deterrence patrol. Now, Arighat is in the final stages of sea trials and is likely to be commissioned into service early next year.

“It should be done (commissioned) early next year,” a source said. The submarine has performed well during sea trials and its commissioning has been delayed by the outbreak of Covid-19.

With the Arihant-class project now working at “assembly-line pace”, the programme has also got a new vertical — SSNs or nuclear-powered submarines which, unlike the SSBNs, are armed with missiles with conventional warheads. In 2019, the government granted Rs 100 crore for the initial phase of development of these submarines. With success in the initial design phase, the programme has received clearance from the government for the detailed design phase. This means that the government will now deploy more resources for this project.

India Plans To Build 6 SSNs With A Displacement Capacity

Approvals for this project were given in 2015, a year after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power. The initial design work had begun at the Gurgaon-based Submarine Design Centre sometime around 2017 and considerable progress has been made since.

The Hyderabad-based, state-owned Mishra Dhatu Nigam, has been asked to develop an indigenous special alloy for the hull of the submarine to allow it to dive much deeper than the Arihant-class boats. The nuclear reactor being developed for the SSNs will also be more powerful than the one on the Arihant-class submarines.

Like SSBNs, SSNs are powered by a nuclear reactor and can remain underwater for long periods of time, much longer than diesel-electric submarines or SSKs, which have to surface at regular intervals to charge their batteries which power them underwater. At the same time, operating SSNs is not as complex as SSBNs as these boats are not armed with nuclear-tipped missiles.

Although the effort behind the projects is indigenous with 60 per cent of the components for the Arihant-class being sourced from local manufacturers, the Indian Navy has benefited from close design-and-technical cooperation with Russia.

The next two SSBNs after INS Arihant and Arighat, identified as S4 and S4* for now, are under construction at the Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam and are likely to enter service with the Indian Navy sometime around 2024. These two boats will displace at least 1,000 tons more than the 6,000 tonne INS Arihant. The boats will be capable of carrying eight 3,500 km range K-4 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) while INS Arihant can carry only four of these. The first Arihant-class is currently equipped with a dozen 750 km range K-15 Sagarika SLBMs. While the K-15 has entered service, K-4 is still being tested.