Ari­hant sails out to its hunt­ing ground

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Rear Ad­mi­ral Sushil Ram­say (Retd) ]

Mon­day, De­cem­ber 15, 2014, will go down as a red-let­ter day in the an­nals of power sta­tus of our coun­try; for on this day Ari­hant, the first of its in­dige­nously de­signed and con­structed nu­clear sub­ma­rine, stoutly steamed out of its nestling ground, Ship­build­ing Cen­tre, Visakha­p­at­nam for prov­ing its met­tle at the hunt­ing grounds un­der stern scru­tiny of the ever vig­i­lant nu­clear safety watch­dogs. The 112-me­tre and 6,000-tonne nu­clear pow­ered bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine (SSBN) was flagged off by the De­fence Min­is­ter, Manohar Par­rikar. This aus­pi­cious event of na­tional im­por­tance was also wit­nessed by Ad­mi­ral R.K. Dhowan, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), the Flag Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing-in-Chief, East­ern Naval Com­mand, top brass from Nu­clear Power Cor­po­ra­tion of In­dia, De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the Bhabha Atomic Re­search Cen­tre.

While Ari­hant re­mained en­sconced in the wraps of se­crecy for strate­gic rea­sons for over three decades, her mo­ment of glory ar­rived when she was launched on July 26, 2009, by Gur­sha­ran Kaur, wife of Man­mo­han Singh, for­mer Prime Min­is­ter. This was the ma­jor turn­ing point in the life of Ari­hant when the shrouds were dis­gorged for all times to come. There­after, there was no look­ing back. The most vi­tal and crit­i­cal of all was the mile­stone when on­board 83 MW minia­turised nu­clear re­ac­tor crossed the thresh­old to turn crit­i­cal in Au­gust 2013. From July 2009 on­ward the out­fit­ting and other sys­tems in­te­gra­tion work had pro­gressed very sat­is­fac­to­rily. The progress on op­er­a­tional­is­ing the on­board nu­clear re­ac­tor was very well cal­i­brated and ex­e­cuted with ex­treme cau­tion and pro­fes­sional fi­nesse in strict com­pli­ance of all de­sign and safety norms and with due cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by the in­de­pen­dent nu­clear safety au­dits.

Prior to com­mis­sion­ing of a ship or a sub­ma­rine there are rig­or­ous tri­als, test­ing and tun­ing of var­i­ous ma­chiner­ies, equip­ment, sys­tems, sub-sys­tems, as­sem­blies, etc. This phase is di­vided into two, Har­bour Ac­cep­tance Tri­als (HATS) and Sea Ac­cep­tance Tri­als (SATS). It is only on suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of both the phases that a ship or a sub­ma­rine is com­mis­sioned into the navy. After suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of a highly com­plex and strin­gent phase of HATS, Ari­hant has now en­tered the sec­ond most cru­cial and vi­tal phase of SATS. One may as­cribe var­i­ous rea­sons to the de­lay of more than four years. All this was most metic­u­lously mon­i­tored and cal­i­brated to­wards en­sur­ing zero er­ror in plac­ing the first ever tech­nol­ogy demonstrator of our coun­try on a firm and sound foun­da­tion. In this con­text In­dia is very for­tu­nate to have in­cor­po­rated all the right lessons from the dif­fi­cul­ties and chal­lenges faced by the pi­o­neers of nu­clear sub­ma­rine de­sign­ers. The de­lays in de­sign, de­vel­op­ment and con­struc­tion of Ari­hant are to be viewed in this per­spec­tive.

Oner­ous task be­fore Ari­hant dur­ing SATS is to ex­ten­sively prove, out at sea in all of its de­signed roles, each and ev­ery piece of ma­chin­ery, equip­ment, weapons, sys­tems, etc. There will be no le­niency or com­pro­mises by the face­less, yet most strin­gent of all au­dits. All of this will hap­pen in a grad­u­ated man­ner but tested to its op­ti­mum ef­fi­ciency. The very first sor­tie may last just for a few days, but Ari­hant will re­turn to sea soon to en­gage in fur­ther sets of SATS. The process will con­tinue un­til each and ev­ery con­cept of op­er­a­tions, op­er­a­tional doc­trines and ex­ploita­tion pat­terns of the third and in­vis­i­ble strate­gic leg of the nu­clear triad are fully es­tab­lished and val­i­dated.

Re­port­edly, Ari­hant is ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing four nu­clear tipped sub­ma­rine launched bal­lis­tic mis­siles, K-4 with a strike range of 3,500 kilo­me­tres or a dozen of tube launched mis­sile, K-15 (Bo 5) with a strike range of 700 kilo­me­tres. This weapon con­fig­u­ra­tion has been de­signed with in-built flex­i­bil­ity to change, de­pend­ing on the mis­sion re­quire­ments. Nonethe­less, it will be fair to as­sess that with the upgra­da­tion of size, de­sign pa­ram­e­ters and in­duc­tion of newer tech­nolo­gies the weapons and mis­sile sys­tems will also se­quen­tially im­prove man­i­fold with en­hanced ranges and strike ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

There are dif­fer­ing es­ti­mates for Ari­hant to com­plete SATS. Some con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates in­di­cate two years, while oth­ers as­sign 18 months to it. The suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of SATS is manda­tory be­fore Ari­hant could be in­ducted into the In­dian Navy. Re­al­is­ti­cally the process could take another year to prove all weapons, sen­sors, con­trols and sys­tems. How­ever, it would be fu­tile to spec­u­late over this mat­ter. What the es­sen­tial pre-req­ui­site will be to com­plete val­i­da­tion of Ari­hant as a SSBN. Hav­ing proven its ca­pa­bil­i­ties and prow­ess, in keep­ing with the global trends, it will only pave ways for in­duc­tion of ad­vanced de­sign fea­tures and more cur­rent tech­nolo­gies for three ad­di­tional follow-on plat­forms. The work in this di­rec­tion has al­ready be­gun in right earnest.

What re­ally needs to be recog­nised and to be proud of the fact that with the suc­cess­ful cul­mi­na­tion of each mile­stone by Ari­hant our na­tion is inch­ing closer to the elite and ex­clu­sive club of the coun­tries who ac­quired the ex­per­tise to build nu­clear pow­ered sub­marines. Presently there are just five—United States, Rus­sia, France, Bri­tain and China. And now it is merely a mat­ter of time that In­dia will be be­stowed the proud sta­tus of be­ing the sixth mem­ber of this revered Club.

Ic­ing on the cake was the state­ment of De­fence Min­is­ter Manohar Par­rikar made on De­cem­ber 16, 2014, “It is an open se­cret. We are dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­tend­ing the cur­rent lease or of tak­ing another sub­ma­rine on lease. This will help us in train­ing”. This state­ment made a day after Ari­hant had set out for SATS is seen as a real shot in the arm to bol­ster the com­plex and spe­cialised train­ing of crew for nu­clear pow­ered sub­marines and fu­ture SSBNs for the In­dian Navy. In­dia will do well to pur­sue the pos­i­tive vibes of the re­cent sum­mit level dis­cus­sions be­tween Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and to take this agenda for­ward for cul­mi­na­tion in a time bound sched­ule.

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