India’s second nuclear-armed submarine is now ready for launch, a critical step towards a planned quick induction into the Indian Navy to strengthen strategic deterrence. The ‘Aridaman’, which has been under construction at the secretive Ship Building Centre in Visakhapatnam, could be launched as early as in the next six to eight weeks.
Sources have told ThePrint that the submarine – larger, more powerful and better equipped than India’s first nuclear sub INS Arihant – has undergone all work required at the dry dock and will shortly be launched into water for further outfitting.
The launch ceremony is a critical milestone in naval shipbuilding, signifying that all major work including integration of heavy machinery and equipment is complete. The ceremony would also require political clearance. The 2009 launch of INS Arihant was a major media event by the UPA government.
The status and progress on Aridaman has been a tightly guarded secret, with no Indian official authorised to talk about the project. The nuclear submarine program is directly monitored by the National Security Advisor (NSA).
After the launch, which is basically a flooding of the dry dock followed by a gentle slipping of the submarine into the sea, the Aridaman will be moved to ‘Site Bravo’, a covered test area for further work. The launch is technically possible any time now but it will be a while – a year at the earliest – for the boat to be ready for sea trials.
Although INS Arihant is the first Indian nuclear armed boat, the long developmental period, testing and technological issues it faced has meant that it is more of a technology demonstrator. The Aridaman is set to be the first credible underwater nuclear weapon delivery platform, with shipbuilders and designers learning from the first construction.
Not only is the boat larger and equipped to carry more of the K-15 submarine launched missiles, it will also have a more powerful reactor than the 83 MW one on board the Arihant. More importantly, Indian shipbuilders have drastically cut down construction time on the boat.
Work on the Aridaman started in earnest after the Arihant was launched in 2009. While the Arihant took 11 years to reach the launch stage, Aridaman has got there within eight. The Indian Navy is hopeful that the time to induction will also be cut. Faced with technological challenges, it took the Arihant seven years to go from launch to induction – a quiet commissioning was done last year – but the Navy is believed to be looking at an ambitious two-year target for the Aridaman.
THE NEXT STEPS
After being moved under the power of harbour tugs to Site Bravo, the Aridaman will undergo several tests over the next year, including the crucial activation of the nuclear reactor. All major components that include the all-important missile launchers and torpedo tubes are already integrated and the submarine would be tested using external power.
After the systems pass all safety tests using external power, the nuclear reactor of the submarine – developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) – will be activated. After the nuclear reactor stabilises, the boat will again undergo safety checks for all systems before being moved to the stage of harbour trials.
Sea trials will subsequently commence to take the submarine through the rigours of combat duty. This will include submerged tests, high speed cruises and firing from torpedo and missile tubes. Indian Navy crews – who are also operating the INS Chakra nuclear attack submarine leased from Russia – will be transferred to carry out tests and the induction process for Aridaman.
Besides the plans for nuclear armed submarines, India has also cleared a project to construct a new line of nuclear-powered but conventionally-armed submarines (SSNs). The mammoth plan, expected to cost over $12 billion, is for six modern vessels to be made in India. First official comments on the plan came in 2015 with a senior Navy officer revealing that the design work had started on the project and the aim is to come out with a new class of submarines within 15 years.