An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 03 August 2002

India 's DRDO has been struggling with three multi billion dollar large projects for the Army, Navy and the Air Force. These are the Light Combat Aircraft, Main Battle tank Arjun and the Advanced Technology Vehicle a euphemism for a Nuclear Propelled Submarine.

Asian Military Review had published the article below on India 's Nuclear Subamrine some time ago. The subject has been kept under wraps in India but from time to time the Indian media refers to this project. Recently Huma Siddique in Finanacial Express had written a path breaking story of contracts of ATV having been bagged by Larsen and Tubro, the same engineering firm that made the stabilisation platform for the Indian Navy's DHANUSH missile which DRDO was unable to accomplish.

India ’s  Nuclear Submarine  Project --- The ATV Must Succeed

(Courtesy: Asian Military Review)

One of India ’s most ambitious scientific programmes kept “Close to the Chest” although pursued since the mid 1970’s, has been its Nuclear Submarine Programme (ATV) - the Advanced Technology Vehicle. As of now, the project has progressed haltingly, but the Navy is determined to make it succeed. Ashley Tellis of Rand was given access to all those involved in India ’s nuclear quest and he summarises, “Over the years, the objective of developing a nuclear submarine appears to have changed as well. Although originally intended as an attack boat capable of stalking superpower fleets operating in the Indian Ocean, the vessel now appears more likely to serve as a cruise or ballistic missile carrier that could one day be armed with small nuclear payloads.”

A large planning and design office at the Central Government Office Complex in the heart of New Delhi , directs the programme under Director General Vice Admiral R Ganesh recently retired and reemployed at a Secretary level. He was the first Commanding Officer of INS Chakra and took over from VADM B Bhushan. Electrical Engineer Vice Admiral P Jaitly is the Project Director. He recently took over from VADM P C Bhasin who gave the project a boost and is now the Chief of Material at NHQ. There are six Rear Admiral rank officers who direct the programme, while two technical Rear Admirals head the two large manufacturing complexes. One is at Hyderabad to collaborate with DRDO labs - BHEL for the heat exchanger propulsion system, and MIDHANI for special steel requirements. The second is the large Ship Building Facility tucked behind high walls and barbed wires, with a dry dock and boilers , at Vishakapatnam, where the hull is being constructed. The Soviet assistance has been substantial by way of parts and inputs, but the critical nuclear reactor design has been steered since 1975 by Bharat Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Mumbai, which manufactures and stores India ’s Atomic and Hydrogen bombs. The ATV has a small complex at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research Kalpakkam near Chennai. It is here that the (approximately) 100-MW pressure water reactor has been tested. This will eventually be sealed into a 600-ton titanium shell of about 10 metres in diameter that will be lowered into the 6000-ton boat in what will be a critical operation. As an Indian nuclear boat Captain says, the submarine operation is an operation like on any other boat, except it is imperative that the key members have to learn to operate the nuclear power plant controls and each crew member has to be aware of all the possible emergencies that can take place in the ensconced nuclear reactor.

To support the project, universities and commercial firms have been employed on an ad hoc basis, including the well-equipped Naval Design Directorate in New Delhi where Russian specialists visit on a regular basis for other Naval projects. Those publicly known for their participation are Larsen and Toubro Ltd for the reactor modules, Mazagaon Docks for the propulsion systems modules, Bharat Electronics for the sensors and Tata Consultancy for Command and Control.

The cloak of secrecy is slowly lifting, and this analytical article is a result of media reports. The Prime Minister is the head of the Steering and Funding Committee of the project that is monitored by the Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister and the DRDO head, Dr V K Aatre, the Canadian-trained sonar scientist. The former CNS Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat asked for an audit, but was unceremoniously removed on 30 December 1998 for discussing ATV matters among other contentious issues.

As early as mid 1996, the media reported that $285.7 million had been spent to develop the ATV. Analysts have estimated that the submarine to be launched by the year 2007 would require an additional $714.3 million. The Navy has built a Soviet-designed facility - the Special Safety Service at Vishakapatnam that can monitor the health of the people working on the submarine and the radiation leaks emanating from the submarine. It is reported that the DRDO has received design assistance from Rubin, engineers and defence workers of the former Soviet Union . India has confidential agreements with Russia on Defence collaboration and National Security Advisers meet regularly to review issues.

           It is now common knowledge that since 1971, the Indian  scientists were attempting to produce a compact nuclear power plant (reactor) design suitable for use at sea. Captain Kotta Subba Rao, under the guidance of Drs. Ramanna, Srinivasan, and Iyengar (the stalwarts who steered India ’s nuclear programmes) had been trying since 1975 to design and build a submarine reactor at BARC. Of the three reactor designs evaluated, the first was rejected in late 1976 the second in 1979 and the third in 1981. Captain Subba Rao left the Navy but he was apprehended carrying his design to the USA and was imprisoned for 20 months. He was finally found innocent as it was proved that he had presented this design, which had been previously cleared, as a thesis for his Doctorate.

BARC envisaged uranium enrichment facilities employing centrifuge technology. Eric Arnett and some observers have speculated that the purpose of the nuclear submarine program "is intended to provide an invulnerable launching platform for nuclear weapons." The US Naval War College - trained Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Madhavendra Singh who is member of the ATV Board in a press interview in early 2002, claimed that the Indian Navy would have nuclear strike capability. Such statements are not made without Government clearances.

Arnett makes another observation concerning the early nature of the programme. “The history and implications of the SSN for Indian maritime strategy suggest that the US presence in the Indian Ocean was a strong motivation for the SSN programme.” He is correct in his observation because India vehemently objected to the US presence in the Indian Ocean , while USA has always been of the belief that its benign Naval presence in the region contributes to stability and security, and fosters trade. The US is now looking at the Indian Navy to help patrol sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean and the Government has given Cabinet approval to the Navy to study escorting details. India is leaning towards more cooperation with USA following the events of 11 September, as it hesitatingly sheds its non-aligned socialist stance. India ’s draft nuclear doctrine recommends a “ No First Use”. Hence for deterrence, a retaliatory strike weapon from the sea towards Pakistan is appreciated as the primary purpose of the nuclear submarine programme. And in the long run, to serve as a deterrent to China .

The Defence Minister George Fernandes had referred to China as threat Number One in 1998 soon after the Shakti nuclear blasts. The PM declared India was a nuclear weapon state. An analyst at the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (CIIPS) has noted: "Analysis of India's defence priorities in the Indian Ocean points to a long-term strategy of meeting a potential Chinese incursion into the Indian Ocean at the key check points in the east - the Strait of Malacca ”. An assessment of India 's current maritime force structure of three Carrier Navy reveals that New Delhi is seeking to attain a sea-denial capability in the Indian Ocean region and the nuclear submarine project is vital to achieving this end.

Background of ATV

 The then Defence Minister K Venkataraman in 1983 and  Dr Raja Ramana the former Director  of BARC and architect of India’s 1974 nuclear bomb, selected Vice Admiral M K Roy (former DNI), his  flat mate in London during college days, to head the  ATV project in Delhi. Indian officials were looking for a design that could offer a chance to learn the production and operating skills relevant to nuclear-powered submarines. The Type-209 design offered by the West German company HDW met some of these criteria. In 1981 HDW won the order for four plus two boats, based on a 'stretched' and heavier version of the Gabler IKL design weighing 1500 tonnes (designated Type-1500). West Germany gained an advantage in negotiations by offering the new generation of SUT B wire guided torpedoes supplied by the German company AEG. Allegations of commissions surfaced to derail the follow-on project and recently Indian has finalised the order for six   Scorpenes on DCN.

 The Indian Navy leased and operated INS Chakra successfully from 1988 to 1991 and fired its first underwater- launched SSM. The initial design strategy for the ATV was to copy the leased Charlie II with an Indian built nuclear reactor for propulsion. The Russians provided detailed drawing of the leased submarine minus the reactor design, as that would have violated the NPT. HY-80 steel was chosen for the construction of the submarine pressure hull and much experience was gained under the direction of Dr. P.C. Deb, Director, Naval Chemical and Metallurgical Laboratory to overcome welding problems. In late December 1995 it was reported that DRDO had made considerable progress in the fabrication of the pre-test capsule (PTC) of titanium steel fabricated in 1994 at Hazira in Gujarat . From there it was transported to Kalpakkam. The submarine hull is finally to be covered with rubber acoustic tiles to help reduce its signature. 

For the PWR reactor, the Indian scientists had access to the West German reactor used on the Otto Hahn and the Soviet reactor used on the Lenin. Indian sources mention information about a Japanese naval nuclear reactor (Mutsu) and its suitability for use in a submarine. Most PWR fuel is uranium-aluminium dispersed fuel (cermet) in steel or zirconium cladding. Indian scientists from BARC and the Indian Institute of Technology have published a number of recent papers describing the uranium-aluminium and uranium-zirconium phases. Both Apsara and Zerlina are known to have used medium enriched uranium. Aluminium clad uranium fuel elements are also in use in both the Cirus and Dhruva reactors. Experience gained in the fabrication of these fuel elements would be invaluable in the design of submarine plate type fuel elements. The steam turbine design and test facilities for use with the nuclear reactor have been set up at Vishakapatnam. In July of 1996, All India Radio reported - " India has successfully developed a nuclear-powered submarine reactor for the navy. The submarine named the Advanced Technology Vehicle was tested successfully somewhere in the East coast recently.”

The challenges faced for the design of certain safety features in submarine nuclear reactors is the design of the control rod insertion and withdrawal mechanism. This may have been responsible for the radiation leaks aboard the leased Soviet submarine which lead to the reported death of at least one Indian scientist. It is known that India tried to buy a rod worth minimizer ((RWM) used by reactor operators to guide and monitor the proper sequences for the withdrawal and insertion of control rods. The control rod technology for use with the rod worth minimizer has now been developed by India .

Communications and Weapon Systems:

The VLF communication facility Project Skylark was commissioned by 1988 with US assistance for signals to penetrate seawater to a depth of 8-10 meters. The work in this area is being carried out by the National Institute of Oceanography, Goa , the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and Bangalore , and the Defence Electronics Applications Laboratory, Dehra Dun (also known as the Instruments Research and Development Establishment). Actual electromagnetic pulse studies (EMP) are conducted at the Department of High Voltage Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology , Bangalore . Additional support is provided by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment, Bangalore , Research Centre Imarat, Hyderabad , and the Electronics Research and Development Centre, Calcutta . An article published in January 1993, by researchers from the Defence Electronics Applications Laboratory, Dehradun reviewed the area of submarine communications and stated - "In the near future, the blue-green laser is going to be the vital means of sending large information to a submarine operating much deeper (500-700 m) with unrestricted speed.

The weapon system Sagarika has been mentioned by the media as a submarine launched cruise or ballistic missile with a range of over 300 km and as per details in the Asian Defence Journal (5/95): "India is testing scale models of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) Sagarika in wind tunnels at the Aeronautical Defence Establishment (ADE), a part of DRDO. The project initiated about three years ago (1992), is aimed at building a SLBM that will be carried on India ’s indigenous nuclear submarine. This is a very complex process that involves the development of an optimum surface design of the missile to counter the airflow. Indian engineers are now trying to develop an engine and a guidance system for the cruise missile." It is therefore interesting to note that in early 2002 the Indian Navy, DRDO and Larsen and Toubro successfully launched the 200km  SSM  Dhanush from the OPV Subhadra (P51) and the trials are on going. The work on these systems is being carried at the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad and the Research Centre, and the Aeronautical Defence Establishment located at Bangalore . Development of a submarine launched ballistic missile is a very complicated undertaking. Among the major problems associated with such a system are the effects of water in the nozzle on motor ignition. This effect caused the failure of two of three flights of the US Trident II missile and UK has been debating the safety factors in the Drell report. Maraging steel components for missile projects are produced at Mishra Dhatu Nigam Ltd., Midhani or at its Hindustan 's Aerospace Division located in Bangalore and by Godrej Aerospace drawing on the vast experience of ISRO. The aluminium alloy components are being manufactured by the Bharat Aluminium Company. It has been reported that computer aided warship design and stability studies are being carried out at the Institute of Armament Technology , Pune, with related signature analysis work carried out at the Naval Science and Technological Laboratory, Visakhapatnam .


The Indian Government has given the go ahead for a Nuclear Command under the CDS.Experts have opined that the present Indian nuclear strategy would have to place a greater emphasis on 'second strike' capability to ensure deterrence. Such a potential would probably not suffice if it were restricted  to the Indian landmass with mobile AGNI missiles or aerial delivery, even if TU 22Ms and SU 30 MKI are inducted. The need to analyse this in greater depth for projection of power from movable platforms has to be emphasised. To give credence to India’s nuclear war fighting structure that is yet to be formulated, will also depend on the 'will' of the leadership to pursue a given strategy. India will have to demonstrate a potential to survive a pre-emptive attack. This would necessitate a policy to provide a visible survival capability to the civilian population and industrial units like the 12 million ton Reliance Refinery at Jamnagar , that lies in the proximity of her borders. Additionally this would entail much larger expenditures on damage limitation infrastructure .The sea leg of the triad appears attractive and offers the best bang for the big bucks that the Indian Naval planners are spending on the ATV, which must succeed.

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