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Why India Loves to ‘Rent’ Russian Nuclear Submarines

Modern Russian Navy Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Modern Russian Navy Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Since achieving independence from the UK after the Second World War, India operated a number of “hand-me-down” warships, notably aircraft carriers. Those included former Royal Navy vessels, while the Indian Navy’s current flagship INS Vikramaditya is a former Soviet-era Kiev-class aircraft cruiser that was purchased from Russia in 2004.

India has also operated foreign-made submarines.

Between 1988 and 1991, India actually leased its first ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) from the Soviet Union, and in 2019 New Delhi signed a $3 billion contract for the lease of an Akula-1-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) from Russia for a period of 10 years. The agreement between India and Russia was signed following two years of negotiations on the price and various other aspects of the deal.

Under the agreement, Russia was to deliver the submarine, commissioned as the Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025. Since inking that deal, New Delhi has sought to acquire a second SSN from Russia, as it would enable the Indian Navy to operate two independent carrier battle groups. India is now seeking to commission its first domestically-built carrier, INS Vikrant, later this year.

Escort Duties

In addition to serving as part of a carrier strike force, the SSNs could perform escort duties with India’s fleet of four Arihart-class SSBNs, all of which will reportedly enter service by the end of this decade. The Russian-made SSNs can stay and operate underwater almost indefinitely and their endurance is limited only by the food supplies for the crew.

They can be equipped with a range of tactical weapons, including torpedoes, anti-ship cruise missiles, and land-attack missiles, but would not be equipped with long-range nuclear missiles because of international treaties and also because such submarines aren’t employed in deterrence patrols.

It is unclear if Russia’s war in Ukraine will impact the timing of the delivery of the Chakra III, or if Moscow even has the capability of providing a second desired SSN.

Meet the Akula-class

Designed in the late 1970s and developed in the early 1980s, the Akula incorporates a double hull system composed of an inner pressure hull and an outer “light” hull. This essentially allowed more freedom in the design of the exterior hull shape, which resulted in a submarine with more reserve buoyancy than western attack submarines of the era.

Fifteen of a planned 20 submarines were built and completed by the Amur Shipbuilding Plant Joint Stock Company at Komsomolsk-on-Amur and by Sevmash at the Severodvinsk shipbuilding yard. Five additional hulls were laid down, but some were canceled during construction and two of the hulls were used in the completion of the Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic submarines Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky.

Seven Akula I submarines were commissioned between 1986 and 1992 while three Improved Akula boats entered service between 1992 and 1995. Construction of the later boats was often suspended at times due to a lack of funds during Russia’s economic crisis.

Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.