Russian nuclear-sub deal with India runs into hurdle

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India has been forced to keep on hold a plan to acquire a second nuclear submarine from Russia on lease after talks during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow last week failed to reach a compromise over new conditions.

Shortly before Modi’s departure for Moscow, Russia had linked the Indian request for the submarine to the purchase of other naval platforms, such as three stealth frigates and two deep submergence rescue vessels (also called submarine rescue vessels), one of which was to be made in India.

India’s navy is unhappy about keeping the acquisition of a second nuclear attack submarine from Russia in abeyance because it upsets a revised plan to shore up its depleted underwater fleet.

Moscow, too, has acknowledged that talks to lease the submarine to India are yet to be conclusive. A Russian official, briefing journalists, said Moscow was still waiting for clarity from New Delhi on proposals involving an Akula-class submarine.

Coincidentally, a senior Indian defence official used similar phrasing – “lack of clarity from the Russian side” – to explain why a submarine deal talked about for three years and given a fillip during Putin’s Indian visit last December could not be clinched.

“We keep hearing and reading about India’s interest in this submarine but till we have clarity from the Indian side on what is acceptable to them, we can’t move ahead,” the Russian official told reporters.

When talks began under the Manmohan Singh government in 2013, it was assessed that the contract would be signed by the end of 2015. The Russians would then take three years to retrofit the Akula II-class submarine at their Amur shipyards.

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As with the only nuclear submarine in operation with India’s navy, also an Akula II-class vessel named the INS Chakra, the Russians were to train a crew for the second boat by the time it was to be deliverable in 2018. That date now seems an impossibility.

Earlier too, Russia had linked military purchases to the sale of a strategic platform – India’s flagship aircraft carrier, the INS Vikramaditya. That upset timelines and resulted in huge cost overruns, prompting a navy chief to urge the Centre to cancel the contract.

But India went ahead with the Gorshkov for about $2.4 billion after a decade of negotiations. Gorshkov is now the INS Vikramaditya.

The INS Chakra, originally the K-152 Nerpa, too had been leased by Russia – in 2012 for 10 years for an estimated $900 million. The cost has never been officially confirmed.

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