The Press reported Sept 4 about damage done to its sonar dome as the ex-Russian ‘Nerpa’ — Akula SSN — INS Chakra — was making its way back to or embarking on a patrol from — it isn’t clear which — its home base in Vishakhapatnam. ( http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/accident-on-board-ins-chakra/article19793626.ece). The Vizag channel is narrow and always challenging to negotiate, so this story is plausible.
However, another story is doing the rounds. It has to do with the discomfiture of Moscow with the growing closeness and intimacy between the Indian Navy and the US Navy and its fear that Americans may thus get access to the nuclear powered Akula submarine. The Akula is a showpiece of Russian engineering and still the leading SSN in the Russian fleet and the possibility of its being compromised in any way is not something Moscow will accept with equanimity.
It is to prevent such possibility that the 2011 $1 billion for 10 years lease-contract for the Akula-Chakra has a provision for a Russian naval officer to be physically on board the vessel at all times — whether under sail or in port in Vizag — cannot be certain, but especially when it is in port. Distrust has grown to the extent that there’s talk of a list being given to the Manmohan Singh government in its last days by Moscow with the names of Indian naval officers, who the Russian government of Vladimir Putin believes are in thick with the US and may compromise/endanger the Akula by allowing Americans direct access to the submarine technologies or, more likely, by passing on classified data and information about the performance and the workings of the Akula to the US Navy.
The Russians are riled that the Manmohan Singh regime did nothing with the list, and that the Modi government, likewise, has not acted on it to ensure the IN officers mentioned therein are not permitted to be anywhere near the Akula. This may explain Moscow’s hesitation and dragging out the negotiations for the lease for the second Akula — Iribis which is some 42% constructed or, more likely, the Kashalot which is sea-ready. In July this year a weekly magazine carried the news about the Akula-Chakra needing to get back to Russia for refueling. ( http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/india-japan-us-navy-to-keep-check-china-multilateral-naval-exercise/1/995386.html ) This doesn’t make sense because it is not up for the refueling cycle until 2021-2022. Refueling is an onerous process that involves cutting through the titanium alloy hull to reach the reactor, and re-welding it after the fuel loading.
What is significant is to wonder whether it is refueling or repairing the bow part of the hull containing the “damaged” sonar dome that Chakra, the submarine has to go back to Russia. It may be a pretext for the Russians to get the boat back — the increasing level of mistrust the Russian Navy feels for the Indian Navy being the reason. Russia will keep this Akula in the dock long past the refueling and/or repair time. If the SSN leaves Indian shores it may not return for a long time, if at all. And there’ll be no SSN in Indian service.
This is a pretty drastic step being contemplated by Russia, and will suddenly and hugely degrade the Indian navy’s sea denial capability, of course, but also crimp our strategic deterrence in many ways, considering the Akulas can hunt down Chinese SSBNs in the Indian Ocean. However, considering how countries value and safeguard their advanced military technology and hardware, Russia’s actions — assuming these will take the course as stated above, are not to be wondered at.