Why India Keeps Renting Nuclear Submarines From Russia Worth Billions Of Dollars Instead Of Buying One?

India is currently working on three nuclear submarine projects — Arihant-class SSBNs, SSNs, and the 13,500 tonne S-5 class SSBNs — but the country remains far from having its own sea deterrent.

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Meanwhile, Russia’s K-152 from the Akula-class commissioned as the INS Chakra II, patrols the Indian Ocean to check Chinese expansion.

While India’s success in obtaining self-reliance in the nuclear submarine program is afar, it has taken the Russian vessel on a $900 million lease for 10 years in 2012, which is likely to be extended by three years.

Under the agreement, Indian engineers and sailors traveled to Russia to receive training on how to operate and service the submarine. The Indian navy has used Chakra II to prepare its submarine crews for the introduction of its nuclear-powered Arihant-class submarine line.

In 2019, India had rented an Akula-1 class nuclear-powered attack submarine from Russia for a period of 10 years at a $3billion contract. Russia will deliver the Akula-1 class submarine, to be known as Chakra III, to the Indian Navy by 2025.

The primary aim of Chakra III is to be the testbed to facilitate India’s plans to indigenously produce six nuclear attack submarines. However, amid India-China tensions, Russia’s Akula class nuclear attack submarine will play an important role.

It is a valuable asset, considering China and Pakistan’s relatively weak anti-submarine warfare capabilities. The Akula design has been modernized since it first became operational with new armaments, improved sensors and further reduction of noise to improve survivability.

Akula-class submarine - Wikipedia
Akula-class submarine – Wikipedia

A senior Indian Navy official had told media that the deal includes the refurbishment of the submarines with Indian communication and sensor systems, spares support and training technical infrastructure for its operations.

Earlier this year, under the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP) 2020, the government allowed the three services — Army, Navy and the Air Force — to lease equipment rather than buying them in one go.

“This brings the cost down significantly and also does away with life cycle cost. There are many items that could be procured through leasing,” experts noted.

India has aimed the nuclear submarine projects to be indigenous and 60 percent of the components for the Arihant-class being sourced from local manufacturers. The Indian navy has significantly benefitted from this arrangement with close design-and-technical cooperation from Russia.

The Soviet Union was the first to lease a nuclear submarine in 1986 when the Kremlin inked a deal with New Delhi for the 10-year lease of a Charlie-class nuclear cruise missile submarine. The lease for the first nuclear submarine was soon ended by New Delhi due to the restrictions that accompanied the transfer.