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The Indian Express North American Edition


In a workshop at Hazira, desi underwater missile launcher gets ready for trial

D N Moorthy

Test flight of indigenously developed underwater test missile launcher SLBM Sagarika is slated for September 2001

Not yet full steam ahead
The nuclear submarine still seems to be facing problems and the Russians seem to have stepped in to bail India out, though at a heavy price.
Estimated to have cost the national exchequer a sum in excess of Rs 2,500 crore till date, the nuclear submarine project which started some time in 1971 has had lots of problems essentially related to the design of the submarine hull and the reactor it is supposed to house.
The problem was in integrating the pressurised water reactor (PWR) to fit into the space available within the submarine hull. Sources say these problems have now been overcome.
Independent observers of the project, however, still doubt whether the miniaturisation of the pressurised water reactor (PWR) was successively achieved. The BARC had shelved three designs because of the scientific objections of a former Naval Commander and nuclear scientist B K Subbarao who was part of the Naval team set up to look into the design feasibility. He was later incarcerated as a spy till the courts exonerated him. A fourth design also did not meet the specifications of the Navy.
Earlier, India had obtained on lease the INS Chakra, a 670A Skat class (in Nato parlance Charlie-I) submarine, with the intention of reverse engineering its PWR. The Russians however did not allow the Indians anywhere near it though they did train Navy crews to operate a nuclear submarine.
The central question then is, where will the submarine’s PWR come from? It is here the Russian connection looms large and the recent deals with Russia, observers say, are pointers in that direction.
Apart from the $ 3 billion arms deal, the two Kudankulam reactors are estimated to cost $ 2.9 billion, to be paid in dollars. There is documentation to show that India is reportedly amenable to the Russian demand that the former purchase a ‘‘series of power reactors’’ for which an agreement between the two countries exists.
With the Russians now on record saying that they are looking to build at least 6 VVER-1000s at Kudankulam, India will need at least $ 18 billion (assuming no cost escalations) to pay the Russians over the next 20 years. A stiff price to pay for the LWR design for a nuclear submarine, according to observers.
This inference, say informed sources, is bolstered by the fact that the submarine being built belongs to the Russian 949A class, known in NATO parlance as Oscar-II, the kind which the ill-fated Russian Kursk belonged to. Earlier it was conjectured that the submarine being planned belonged to the Severodvinsk class. Oscar-IIs are nuclear-powered guided missile submarines (SSGNs) exactly what India needs for a credible nuclear deterrence.
Initially, observers were of the opinion that India’s own nuclear submarine may not fructify even by 2007, but now with the categorical assertion that Sagarika is slated for September 2001 underwater trials, the culmination of the project within the specified time frame may just about be possible. If this happens, India will take a giant step forward to realise the dream of a credible second strike nuclear capability.

Mumbai, May 27: On the floors of the workshop of a well-known public limited company at Hazira, Project 78 (P78) is getting ready. The engineering works are complete and minor electrical wiring remain to be completed, a task which, according to sources, is scheduled to be finished by the end of the month and formally handed over to the Navy for tests.
P78 is not just another engineering project. It is India’s underwater test missile launcher almost entirely indigenously designed and fabricated. It simulates the necessary conditions to launch a cruise or a ballistic missile from a nuclear-powered submarine. In the present instance, P78 is the first crucial step towards strategic weaponisation, since it is being geared to launch a missile tipped with a nuclear warhead.

The missile for which the launcher is being readied is the mysterious Sagarika, first thought to be a cruise missile but now, again according to sources, virtually confirmed to be a ballistic missile. A cruise missile is a low-trajectory missile guided to its destination by an on-board computer. The ballistic missile has a high trajectory and transcends the atmosphere to re-enter from above the targeted site.

Sources say that Sagarika will come in both versions — cruise and ballistic. It is, however, confirmed to be an advanced clone of the naval version of the Prithvi series. Prithvi-I is land-based, II is air-launched and III, sea launched. The difference is that Sagarika is designed exclusively for being launched from a submarine, hence is an SLBM (SLCM is a cruise missile.)

The state of development of the SLBM/SLCM could not be confirmed but what could be confirmed was the targeted date for the test launch of the missile itself. A highly placed source directly involved with India’s prestigious, albeit long-suffering, advanced technology vessel project (ATV Project) — a euphemism for the indigenously being-developed nuclear submarine — disclosed to The Indian Express that Sagarika will have its first underwater flight test in September 2001. According to a retired Naval intelligence source, this means Sagarika is already ready and waiting for tests or in a very advanced state of completion. That is why the frenetic activity to have the P78 underwater missile launcher delivered to the Navy before April 2001 makes sense.

The revelation assumes significance since it is the first solid and tangible fulfilment of the aim of the ambitious draft Indian nuclear doctrine to possess a viable and credible ‘‘second strike’’ capability to inflict ‘‘unacceptable damage’’ to an attacking enemy. It is a matter of recognised strategic principle that a viable and credible second nuclear strike capability is vested with sea-launched, in particular nuclear-propelled submarine-launched missiles, because they are difficult to track down using air or surface-launched enemy missiles.

The Indian Government has consistently denied the existence of both the ATV project and the development of the SLBM Sagarika with a range of about 300 km.

‘‘Even today, no one is about to admit to the project. However, once the underwater missile test takes place in September, it will be there for the whole world to see,’’ the source said.

Sagarika developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), needs to have a nuclear-powered submarine, for conventional diesel-powered submarines do not have the logistics and manoeuvrability to launch the missile from under water.

This means that, despite its long and chequered history, the indigenously designed ATV Project is well on course since the ATVP and Sagarika complement each other.

This correspondent talked to AK Anand, director, reactor project group of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Anand refused to either confirm or deny it. However, on a recent visit to MAPS (Madras Atomic Power Station) and IGCAR (Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research) sources at Kalpakkam confirmed to this correspondent that the nuclear reactor for the submarine was being fabricated there.

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