Sunday, May 20, 2007

The ATV Unbound Part II: The INS Chakra Joyride

We took on lease a Russian nuclear submarine way back in 1988 and it was re-christened INS Chakra. It was to stay with us for three years. First, a little on what this Russian sub was.

It was a 670A Skat series submarine bearing the number K-43 (Charlie class by NATO classification) with eight Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship missile launchers. It was a 1960s vintage submarine and was decommissioned after it was returned on the termination of the lease. The Charlie class was originally planned in the Soviet Union as a small, 'mass-production' attack submarine. They were re-designed to carry the SS-N-9 SSM, which had been planned for the Papa class. This change was presumably made to deal with the high cost of the Papa design, which clearly could not be built in sufficient numbers. A further change resulted when the SS-N-9 missile was not ready in time for the Charlie class, forcing the substitution of the SS-N-7, a modified version of the venerable SS-N-2 Styx. The Charlie class could fire missiles while submerged, unlike the previous SSG/SSGN classes.

What was the real objective of taking a sub on lease? The fond hope was that if we take a Russian nuke sub on lease, we could learn to operate it and God willing, even learn to make it by reverse engineering merely by looking at it. "People in the Navy high-command, atomic agencies and DRDO who misled the government into believing in such a childish argument deserve to be cashiered." One cannot reverse engineer even a motorbike by looking at it. Even the most elementary knowledge of mechanical engineering should convince one that you require detailed machine designs for making anything — merely looking at it for three years is of no consequence. And they thought that they could reverse engineer a nuclear reactor.

The submarine incidentally came with Russian guards who did not allow our people to even touch the reactor. The Russian online daily Kommersant had later confirmed that while Chakra was on lease the Russians did not allow the Indians access to the reactor. "We played with the sub for three years and then returned it." How could such a stupid decision have be taken in the first place? Was it not clarified in the beginning as to what the terms of lease would be? Why was it such a surprise? Or did someone genuinely expect that he would be able to decipher the secrets of the nuclear reactor of the submarine by looking at it from a distance or operating the consoles for a sufficiently long time?

The simple fact is that while the Russians had provided detailed designs of the leased submarine the designs of the reactor and drawings were not provided for the simple reason that providing reactor design details would have been a violation of the NPT. How is it that such a simple thing did not go into the heads of those who took the decision? Was this unprecedented intellectual bankruptcy? Or was it all a part of the operation to cover up the bungling?

The total cost of the lease was approximately Rs 360 crore at the rate of Rs 120 crore a year. And it wasn't all smooth sailing either. The Navy News and Undersea Technology (November 13, 1989) reported that radiation problems on the submarine were responsible for the death of at least one Indian scientist on board the submarine. It is suspected that these radiation problems could also have played a role in the termination of the contract with the Soviet Union. These are not reports -- these are facts.

It may be kept in mind that India's first indigenously-constructed diesel-electric submarine, the INS Shalki, a license-produced Type 209 Class 1500, was commissioned 25 years after the Navy established the first submarine squadron. The Shalki was built at the East Yard of the Mazgaon Dock Ltd. (MDL). Construction stated in 1984, and it was launched in September 1989.

The point to be noted is that in 1985 someone in the establishment wanted to gain operating experience of nuclear submarines even as we were yet to build a diesel-electric submarine of our own. Obviously the Navy and scientific establishment had led the decision-makers to believe that they would deliver the nuke submarine shortly. Why did they fail to notice that that fabrication of the Shalki had taxed the MDL's capabilities to the limit, resulting in a 20 per cent cost over-run, and the delivery of the submarine was 15 months late. This was admitted by P.K. Mukherjee, general manager of MDL's East Yard himself. The Shalki has cost the Indian navy some Rs 1.8 billion ($450 million). And it was not really an wholly indigenous affair. Raw materials such as high-strength HY-80 steel and pipes had to be imported but were cut, formed and welded in India.

In 1990, there was a massive row in Visakhapatnam between a DRDO materials scientist and a senior Naval officer from the ENC. Both were arguing over drinks and things got out of hand. The officer argued that the Chakra was a good idea -- the scientist argued that it was not, and that nothing was being learnt. It was, what he called, an "expensive joyride" with absolutely no returns. The officer, far senior to the scientist, famously (in Navy circles) lost his cool and poured the beer onto the scientist's lap and ordered him to leave. Two years after the lease, opinion was starkly divided.

It should be obvious that the decision to take the nuke sub on lease was not only premature, it was a hasty decision based on the wishful thinking and false promises of the scientific establishment and in part, the Navy itself. And the nation was poorer by Rs 360 crore in the process -- that's the bottomline. Nobody can argue that operating INS Chakra gave us experience of operating a nuclear submarine. The utter folly of the decision stands exposed in all its starkness as 31 years later, all personnel who served on the INS Chakra [including one of the contributors to this piece] have retired now and the so-called experience has gone with them—we never got a nuke sub of our own in these three decades on which they could practice the experience or pass it on to others.

(Next, Part III: The ATV's Missiles)


Anonymous said...

Someone who says you cannot reverse engineer even a motorbike,i guess never heard of a country called China. But then it is a different story.

Can someone tell me if IN does not get to operate a nuclear submarine and gets a hands on experience on it,how would it form requirements for the ATV?

Does US and other friendly nation provide us with "wants and dont wants" on ATV? And the point about nuclear reactor on the subs. India cannot learnt about "watching sub reactors from distance",but if they paid the Russians well enough ,they themselves would have given the design,something like our great neighbour China did.But then our nation expects the moon and when it comes to money they are not ready to pay even dirt.
As the article pointed out didn't the IN knew that Russians would be manning the reactors? Even then why did they lease it?
It is obvious that the experience of operating the reactor was worth it.
And the question about people who have retired.
Now they are retried not dead. What makes someone think that these people were not involved in forming the requirements? Even the head of ATV are retired IN officer. They are "offically" out of the navy.
You crib about 360 crore. Russian middle man percentage is around 16. So that is less than any purchase from Russia above 2500 crores or 500 million dollars! But then "I should agree" with you that we illegaly wasted 360 crores on operating nuke subs!

zippo said...

@anon- why do people always talk about money and then say what is 360 crore compared to something else. it still is 360 crore, my man! and please explain how operating chakra has helped the navy formulate its needs. what a silly suggestion. everyone in the navy had a gala time on the sub, without getting a glimpse of the reactor and we paid through our nose. these chaps have rightly called it a joyride. but the navy is equally to blame.. you can't just slam the scientists. and of course the bagula bhagat government of india.

Anonymous said...

i agree by and large with this post. and the story about a scientist dying from radiation exposure on the chakra is apparently true.. heard it before too. but what i really want to read about is SLBMs/CMs..

Anonymous said...

i am not a drdo basher like a lot of journos, but i cover science and tech for a southern paper. i have personally covered drdo, csir, isro etc for about 15 years now. the only thing i can say is that there are certain programmes or projects undertaken by drdo which are unparallelled in every form. and i'm afraid i have to agree with the authors in saying that the ATV programme is unparallelled in incompetence. having said that, it interests me the rebounding debate on specific programmes. life careers have gone into these programmes, to make the country self-reliant, but self reliance cannot be a castle in the distant air. spending 32 years building a nuclear submarine is plainly illogical. spending an equal number of years preparing a tank is even more unpardonable. i dont know how many of you have read the standing comittee report, the new one. it has asked the govt to fix accountability for arjun mbt project specifically. whether it is the army or cvrde or drdo bhavan or whoever, the project itself is utterly indefensible. if you started building a battle tank as a result of post-war lessons of bangladesh war, then if you don't have the tank ready in 2007, then sorry there is something wrong with all quarters. this is no longer the age of the tank. militaries are talking of UCAVs and tactical nuke delivery, and here we are lumbering on about a tank. defending indian programmes blindly is all very well, but it is false patriotism. it is more harmful to the country than constructive, reasonable and prudent thinking. the system needs a shakeup from all sides.

Anonymous said...

anon: Sir, I value your statement as you have the experience and exposure.

As you said, my request to all Journos..

If you find fault with something or someone, instead of beating around the bush, you fix it on someone.

For everthing and anything, you cannot just point your figure on one particular org.

It is like saying becoz top officers of Navy were involved in espionage case, Navy is corrupt & unpatriotic.

It is not like defending one org. But there is lack understanding about the beast called Research, particulary research in defence sector.

Just to point out, Boeing, being the no. one in aero industry, is having problem with F/A-18E/F. The problem was found after so many airfracts were produced. So, can we say Boeing is useless ?

Producing a 100 ton ship is not a big deal. But producing a 100 ton aircraft carrier is a mammoth task. In latter case, margin of error has to be very very less. If i have to say in a coloquial way, getting 90% is somewhat difficult. But achieving every percentage more than 90% requires double or triple the effort required for previous case.

Developing UCAVs and tactical nuke is not a big deal, if there is required funding and right environment.

>>the only thing i can say is that there are certain programmes or projects undertaken by drdo which are unparallelled in every form. and i'm afraid i have to agree with the authors in saying that the ATV programme is unparallelled in incompetence

Sir, I have to disagree with you here..

It is the known secret that delay in ATV is due to nuclear reactor. That is looked after by BARC scientist and not DRDO.

You are doing the same mistake as other journos are doing.

Anonymous said...

There is a typo error in my previous post. It is not 100 ton ship or 100 ton aircraft carrier.

Correction: what is meant to say is 100,000 ton ship and 100,000 ton aircraft carrier.

Anonymous said...

>>defending indian programmes blindly is all very well, but it is false patriotism. it is more harmful to the country than constructive

Sir, again no one has interest in blindly supporting any Indian program. If you hear the repeated distorted 'scratched record' statements & stories without any reason, logic or proof, then what we are going to gain from this.

I think most of the posters here agree with me on this.

My request is, if you smell the rat, then do & act like tekelka. We are bored of hearing the same cooked up stories again & again.

This ATV story, i'm hearing for the nth time. Samething again & again.

- Jai

Anonymous said...

Man its like talking to the class dunce here. So the russians gave india access to the design, hull specs, detailed blueprints bar the reactor...and you say its nothing? Just because some spat in the navy between two drunk chaps, and because some rtd blokes are writing a book..

This is why you are an idiot Aroor. You simply lack the common sense to interpret or understand the depth of information placed in front of you and have to rely on comments made by others

The design is the billion $ part of the sub- especially a nuke sub. You get a birds eye view into all the design considerations and the critical wiring, cables, propellant lines, spacing, dimensions for a nuke sub..and you say this is nothing?

Heck, for this alone the PRC woulda paid a billion bucks.

Also 32 years and "no reactor", sez who, genius! Theres a reactor ready, use google news..IANS is carrying the story right now.

Reactor design for a nuke sub, on a limited budget is impossibly hard...heres another clue for u,in the US guess who are the elite ofthe elite in the navy? nuke submariners, their classified status is almost never revoked. each is an expert in nuke propulsion and powerplants, and has education benefiting from all the data gained from years of success and failure including loss of a nuke sub...

yaar you journalists are true dunces, you report but you dont understand. Must go ht myself on the head for talking to u chaps i can feel my IQ dropping and brain imploding..sorry, but u guys are so clueless that it hurts..

Anonymous said...

btw, heres something for u bloody buggers to understand, ever had a class in basic thermodynamics or turbomachinery? i guess not..there are valves used in nuke systems to limit the flow of propellant, the dimensions have to be accurate enough to allow liquid coolant to flow through but at a rate that is proportional to heat taken away and it cannot corrode in civvie street we chaps use nuke subs, lack of space, so no redundancy, got my drift? each of these thingummies sells for around a 100,000 bucks each in unkil land..and is made by only one firm, so if we make it, we gotta a) design b)materials research c) get the tools to make it d) within budget...think for a sec whether its even possible with the ATV budget and then come back
Ths is one of the things.. a working reactor is far far far far more..we can design and make FBRs and Candus and this and that...ever struck u why we needed so much time here? coz its bloody hard with our fnds and manpower constraints fellers,,

Adios muchachos..but if i spend more time here, i seriously might get retarded what with ur thoughts and all

Anonymous said...

Oh btw, guess what i found in the "secretive", "non transparent" DRDO website?

The monograph on Environment in Submarines is the first of its kind in the field of environmental sciences relating to closed spaces. Not enough literature exists on this subject mainly because an enclosed environment cannot be perceived in day-to-day events and also many investigators have no access to such an environment. Thus, there is a need of such a document covering all facets of the enclosed environment.

The author has picturised the actual conditions prevailing inside the submarine and also dealt with a variety of problems faced by its habitants, and has offered solutions to ensure a safer environment. This monograph serves as a source book for scientists, naval personnel and marine engineers.

About the Author
Dr MVR Koteswara Rao did his post graduation from Andhra University and Doctorate in Chemistry from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He served the Defence R&D Organisation as a Scientist for 32 years and executed a number of projects related to the environment in submarines. He was also trained in West Germany, in 1984. He also participated in an international symposium in this field organised by the US Environment Protection Agency in 1986. He has published several papers in the field.

Quite funny, naa?

Here is a DRDO report openly talking about how its meant as a sourcebook on technology unavailable to indian developers.

Another example of the wasted ATV effort, no doubt.


Anonymous said...

Dear Indians,
Why waste time in making horoscope for a dead kid.
Look at our capabilities in ship building /repairs / operating,,
Convert the talents available in designing our own Nuke.
It requires guts and will power and of course support from the political leadership.
India can build a Nuke in just 3 years,,.
Is the Prime Minister of India listening ?
There are dozens of submariners in India who can do it,,,

Anonymous said...

My grandfather's friend's son in the sub commander of that naval Vessel(ins Chakra)

Anonymous said...

My grandfather's friend's son in the sub commander of that naval Vessel(ins Chakra)