India has added teeth to its underwater combat capability by inducting the Russian-origin nuclear submarine, christened INS Chakra, into its fleet, becoming only the sixth navy in the world to operate a nuclear-powered vessel.
Defence Minister AK Antony formally inducted the Akula-II class submarine 'K-152 Nerpa', which will be with the Indian Navy on a 10-year lease from Russia at a cost of nearly $900 million, at the Ship Building Complex in Vishakapatnam, along the Andhra Pradesh coast on the Bay of Bengal.
With India entering the select club of nations operating nuclear-powered submarines after a gap of over two decades, Antony hoped that 8,000-tonne submarine will strengthen the Indian Navy, which has blue water ambitions. India had got another Russian-origin nuclear-powered Charlie class submarine on lease for three years in 1988 and operated it till 1991 to training its personnel.
With the induction of the nuclear submarine, India has joined the elite club of the US, Russia, France, Britain and China that operate such vessels.
"India is the strategic hub of the India Ocean region. Peace and stability (in the region) are necessary. India's naval presence is crucial," the defence minister said, adding that "INS Chakra will ensure security and sovereignty of the country."
"Induction of the nuclear submarine is to strengthen our national security and maritime security. It will strengthen the Indian Navy to meet any challenge in the maritime security," he said.
India has over 2007-11 has emerged as the world's leading defence spenders, edging past neighbors Pakistan and China, which has also emerged as the world's sixth largest weapons exporter.
In particular, India wants to strengthen its maritime security, fearing that China move to fast build up a powerful blue water navy may reduce it to a junior maritime power in its own Indian Ocean backyard.
On China's increasing military capability, Antony said, "induction of INS Chakra or INS Vikramaditya (Russian-origin aircraft carrier scheduled for induction in January 2013) warships or any other platform is not aimed at any country. It is to strengthen our national security to meet any challenge more effectively," he said.
But he added that modernising of Indian armed forces, including the induction of the submarine, were aimed at any country or in the pursuit of an arms race.
"India doesn't believe in an arms race. We are not a confrontationist nation. We are a peace-loving nation," he said
"But, at the same time, the armed forces will be strengthened to meet any challenge," he added, when asked about Pakistan's strong reaction expressing fears that INS Chakra's induction will lead to arms race in the region.
"We have a vast land border. We have more than 7,500-km coastline and more than 2 lakh sqkm of Exclusive Economic Zones. We have to protect the sea lanes of our core area of interest," he said.
India will soon have two nuclear submarines guarding its vast maritime boundary with INS Chakra and the indigenously built INS Arihant expected to start operational patrols soon
Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said the "induction of Chakra is a major step in (the) direction" of modernizing the force.
"Chakra will increase the operational flexibility of the Indian Navy," Verma said.
Russian Ambassador in India Alexander Kadakin who was present at the induction function described the vessel as "powerful and ferocious".
"Today is a very special occasion… It is a milestone not only for the Indian armed forces but also a shining example of the strategic partnership between India and Russia," the ambassador said.
India currently has 14 ageing conventional submarines and is in talks for the lease of another Akula-II class submarine from Russia. "There is a proposal for a second submarine but we have not taken any decision," said Antony.
Nuclear-powered submarines have an edge over conventional vessels because they can remain underwater for several months unlike diesel-electric powered boats that have to surface at regular intervals.
The leased submarine would operate with the Indian Navy for 10 years and provide India's sea warfare a thumping capability - not just as an attack and weapons platform, but would also serve as a laboratory for researchers to study the technology of nuclear submarine warfare.
It can also provide cover to the indigenous nuclear-armed INS Arihant that is to conduct sea trials later they year before being commissioned next year which will get operational India's nuclear weapon triad - the capability to fire from land, air and sea.
The newly inducted vessel has a maximum speed of 30 knots and can operate at a maximum depth of 600 meters. With a crew of 73, it can remain underwater for over three months at a time.
The vessel is armed with four 533mm and four 650mm torpedo tubes and the 300-km range Klub-S land-attack cruise missiles, which India deploys on its Kilo-class conventional submarines.
India had signed a deal with Russia in 2004 for leasing of the Nerpa submarine and it was expected to join Indian Navy service in 2009, but its delivery was delayed by three years after an on-board gas leak accident in 2008, in which nearly 20 Russian sailors died.
Indian Navy personnel have already been imparted training in Russia for operating the Nerpa and a crew of over 70 people, including around 30 officers, had taken over the vessel in Russia's Far Eastern Primorye territory on January 23 this year.