In early 2018, Indian outlet The Hindu reported that the country’s only operational nuclear ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant, was out of action for about 10 months starting from some time in 2017 due to an accident.
What was the accident? Allegedly, a sailor had left a hatch open and water entered which damaged the submarine’s propulsion compartment almost sinking it.
An anonymous naval source said water rushed in as a hatch on the rear side was left open by mistake while it was at harbor.
The identity of the person, or persons, who are responsible for the incident is not publicly known. Regardless, they were almost able to sink a 3-billion-dollar submarine without firing a single shot, while it stood at the harbor.
The INS Arihant is part of what is known as the “triad” of India‘s nuclear fleet. They currently have a second nuclear submarine on lease from Russia. The INS Chakra reportedly suffered damage to her sonar domes when coming into Visakhapatnam harbor in October of 2017.
A 3rd one was launched in November 2017, and became the 2nd Arihant-class submarine in the Indian navy. It is expected to be commissioned in 2019 or 2020, after it undergoes comprehensive sea trials.
Thus, if the sailors aboard the INS Arihant had accidentally succeeded in sinking the 3-billion-dollar sub, it would have critically crippled India’s naval defenses.
India hopes to build a nuclear fleet of 5 Arihant-class submarines. The cost of the program has already increased more than 4 times from what was initially projected, according to a former Navy official. He said, “It was initially estimated to cost about $430 million for three boats — now the cost of Arihant itself seems to have gone over $2 billion.”
Arihant and other nuclear launch platforms are operationally handled by the Strategic Forces Command, and report to the Nuclear Command Authority chaired by the Prime Minister.
MSM outlets such as the National Interest, among others, reported in April 2019 that the report of the Indian navy almost sinking the submarine and its repairs happened just recently. That is contrary to the truth.
In November 2018, the INS Arihant completed its first deterrence patrol.
Dhanteras gets even more special!
India’s pride, nuclear submarine INS Arihant successfully completed its first deterrence patrol!
I congratulate all those involved, especially the crew of INS Arihant for this accomplishment, which will always be remembered in our history. pic.twitter.com/tjeOj2cBdX
— Chowkidar Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 5, 2018
Hailing INS Arihant’s achievement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “a credible nuclear deterrence is the need of the hour.”
“The success of the INS Arihant is a big step towards strengthening national security. For the country’s enemies it is an open challenge,” Prime Minister Modi said.
“I congratulate all those involved, especially the crew of INS Arihant for this accomplishment, which will always be remembered in our history. True to its name, INS Arihant will protect the 130 crore Indians from external threats and contribute to the atmosphere of peace in the region.”
NS Arihant’s 750km and 3,500km missiles may be somewhat dwarfed by SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missile) of the US, China and Russia, which have upwards of 5,000 km range. But for India it is significant, since it also has a “no first-strike policy” and this makes its second strike capability much more credible.
The Economic Times claims that the report was basically fake news since:
“The submarine has no hatches there. The Arihant is based on Russian double hull design with a sealed nuclear reactor section. Except for the latest French nuclear submarines that have a hatch above the reactor for quicker refuelling, no other country with nuclear submarines have such a system.
Although the Arihant’s core is not designed to operate for the submarine’s lifetime and will need refuelling, it does not have a hatch. To refuel, the hull will have to be cut open and welded back, as is the case for the Russian nuclear attack submarine, the Akula-II class that India has leased and operates as INS Chakra.”
The news report says that the absence of Arihant from operations came to the political leadership’s attention during the India-China military standoff at Dokalam when India allegedly wanted to deploy it.
That in itself would be strange: how can the top brass not be aware of one of their most significant and sophisticated weapons being out of commission and being caught unaware by the news.
And indeed, it would seem a bit suspect that sailors would accidentally sink a submarine, the project for which began almost 5 decades ago.
The Eastern Naval Command plans to operate its nuclear sub fleet from an independent Naval Operational Alternative Base (NOAB) being constructed on 5,000 acres at Rambilli, for direct access to the sea. The base is located about 50 km from Visakhapatnam, and jetties are under construction.