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India set to lease third Akula-class nuclear attack submarine from Russia

India and Russia have begun discussions for the lease of a third Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine. Discussions are at a very preliminary stage but India is aware of the “submarine gap” in the 2020s, particularly in the later years. One possibility is to lease another Akula-class submarine from Russia.

India already has one nuclear-powered submarine, the Chakra, leased from Russia. It came in 2012. India is also expected to lease a second submarine of the Akula-class but an official announcement has not been made yet. Highly-placed sources confirmed that discussions have begun for a third, keeping in mind the projected shortage of submarines. By the late 2020s, the nine Russian-built Sindhughosh class submarines would be about 40 years old and on their last legs, despite their refit, happening now. That would only leave the four HDW Germany-designed submarines, which are just as old and hopefully, the six Scorpene submarines — and most of them are yet to join service.

The six Scorpenes apart, there would be two Akula-class nuclear powered-submarines (though one could go back) and perhaps, two nuclear-powered submarines of the Arihant class. The latter has a totally different purpose. A total of 14 submarines in the late 2020s would be fewer than what the Indian Navy has now and the gap, considering the growing strength of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy and its likely presence in the Indian Ocean by then, would be worrying.

One problem will be the budget. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh has already spoken of the Navy’s share of the budget coming down.

The discussions for a third submarine, are dependent on several issues: what India can produce in its own shipyards; whether the six Scorpenes are ready by then; and whether the long-awaited decision for a second line (perhaps, through a strategic partnership) is taken and the work takes off.

The first nuclear-powered submarine leased from Moscow was in 1987. It was called the Chakra and was returned a few years later. Nuclear-powered submarines, keeping in mind international laws, are leased, not purchased. More recently, in April 2012, an Akula-class submarine was inducted into the Indian Navy. All nuclear-powered submarines from Russia are on lease.

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