As Medvedev visits India confusion on nuclear submarine deal


New Delhi : As Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday begins his first visit to India, confusion intensifies on the fate of the deal on a Russian built nuclear powered submarine that met with an accident last month during trials in the Sea of Japan.

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The fire on board the Russian-built nuclear powered Akula-II class Nerpa attack submarine led to the deaths of 20 crew members. Though Russia had denied any submarine deal with India following the incident, Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta has said negotiations were held but he did not know what was going on now.

“It is true that both the governments (Russian and Indian) were negotiating about this vessel. This is also true that Russian Navy was to commission the submarine in their fleet. What is going on now I cannot say,” Mehta told reporters earlier this week.

In August this year, Mehta has said: “After various delays, the nuclear-powered vessel (Akula) for crew training will come some time next year.

“Akula will be used to train our crew before they come up at the platform that will be developed by DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) in two years,” he had said.

The submarine, considered the quietest and deadliest among Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines and to be rechristened in the Indian Navy as INS Chakra, was to be delivered to India by 2009 on a 10-year lease primarily to be used to train crews to operate this kind of a vessel.

According to defence sources, the 12,000 tonne submarine was partly financed by India under a hush-hush deal signed with Russia in January 2004 and was built at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur shipyard in Russia.

Experts said it would help India fill the void caused by the delays in the indigenous Advanced Technology Vessel project to build a nuclear powered attack submarine capable of firing missiles.

Three Indian crews for the nuclear submarine have already been trained at the specially set up training centre in Sosnovy Bor near St. Petersburg.

According to defence sources, three domestically-designed nuclear submarines are under construction under a top-secret Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) programme at Mazagon dock, but the navy needs to gain first-hand experience in nuclear submarine operations, deployment and maintenance prior to the deployment of domestic submarines.

The nuclear submarine leased by Russia will not be equipped with long-range cruise missiles due to international restrictions on missile technology proliferation, but India may later opt to fit it with domestically designed long-range nuclear-capable missiles.

At present, India operates 16 conventional diesel submarines and awaits six French-Spanish Scorpene class diesel attack submarines to be delivered between 2012 and 2017. India plans to deploy at least three nuclear submarines armed with long-range strategic missiles by 2015.

The first of the three domestic nuclear submarines is expected to begin sea trials by mid-2009.

The Russian president is on a two-day visit to India.