Hope and Hype
Russia’s Malachite Design Bureau is ready to cooperate if the Indian Navy asks for Chakra III

INS Chakra II St Petersburg: The Russian ship-building industry is in an interesting position vis-a-vis India, these days. It has unparalleled history of cooperation with the Indian services. It professes to extend support and technology that no other country can do. And it has been sanguine in the knowledge that the user (Indian Navy) and its political masters have a degree of comfort when it comes to their products and platforms.

But the twist in the tale is that, even the recent history is history nevertheless. Several other aggressive sellers, both Europeans and the North Americans, have entered the market just when the Russians had started to take the Indian users a wee bit for granted. So even when the Indian Navy still looks for the cheapest option, it now seeks value addition. And for the first time, the Russian shipbuilders are having to market and compete. Being new in the game, their best bet is still piggy-backing on the political package.

Vladimir Dorofeev, general manager of Malachite Design Bureau, which specialises in fast attack submarines (its most famous import to India is the nuclear-powered Chakra submarine), is surprisingly candid when he says, “Bilateral statements made during President Putin’s visit to India in December 2012 contain many answers to the questions about our next collaboration in the sphere of delivery of Chakra III nuclear-powered submarine. The need of our collaboration in high-technology projects such as creation of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and BrahMos Guided Missile was stressed at that time. So it is possible to discuss the plan of creation of new submarine, equipped with machinery which will partially be designed and manufactured jointly to continue these projects.”

Indian Navy is currently operating Chakra II, first of the Akula class, which has been leased for 10 years and had arrived in India last year. Dorofeev said that interest shown by the Indian Navy for the second Chakra (Akula class submarine) has not yet been expressed officially. Though called Chakra, after the first nuclear-powered submarine which the Indian Navy leased from Russia in 1988, the current submarine is not the same class as the first one. Chakra II is much more advanced than the first one in terms of armament and capacity. Chakra II or Akula class submarine has 190-MWt nuclear reactor, providing submerged speed of 30 knots and 50,000 shaft horse power.

Both Chakra I and Chakra II were transferred to India together with their missile complexes and missiles. Commanding officer of Soviet SSGN K-43 (called Chakra I after joining Indian Navy in 1988), Alexander Terenov, who has written an interesting account of operating the Russian submarine for the Indian Navy with a mix of Indian and Russian crew in a book, titled Under Three Flags, was among those who took part in handing over of Chakra II to her Indian commanding officer last year. Now after retirement from the Russian Navy, Terenov has joined Malachite Design Bureau. But he still fondly recalls his Indian stint.

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