Presentation on ATV breaks surface!

India’s nuclear submarine programme has been an open secret for well over two decades, despite the fact that successive governments has so far either denied its very existence or called it a mere technology demonstrator. But now the government’s official stamp on the top-secret project has finally surfaced through the stubborn blanket of secrecy.

Headlines Today has obtained access to a classified presentation made by India’s defence establishment to the National Security Advisory Board in 2008 drawing up full-fledged official overview of the top secret programme. Never before has a government document on the project, codenamed Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV), ever come out. The presentation completely debunks the government’s recent indications that the project is aimed at building a technology demonstrator.

In fact, in big bold type, the submarine is declared to be a “platform for mutiple strategic deterrent” – in other words, a vessel that will ultimately carry and be capable of firing nuclear-tipped intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and have near limitless endurance out at sea. In that sense, the secret document once and for all settles all doubts about India’s nuclear deterrence at sea.

Vice Admiral (Retd) AK Singh, who, while in service, was associated with the secretive project said, “It’s a phenomenal and welcome milestone. The secrecy is not surprising. India has done what all other great nations have done when they build strategic assets of this kind. It’s only once the submarine hits the water that the secrecy goes, and that will happen. The submarine will soon be put into the water, and in time provide India a crucial second-strike capability.”

The submarine is scheduled to be launched – a technical term for flooding of its dry-dock and eased into open water – at the end of this month, though it is not yet certain if Vijay Diwas on July 26 will be the chosen date.

Strategic affairs analyst Brahma Chellaney, who has written in the past about India’s nuclear deterrent, said on the channel that the success of India’s nuclear submarine is hinged almost wholly on how successfully India can test and operationalise a submarine-launched ballistic missile with ranges that can touch the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Beijing. The presentation, in fact, makes it quite clear that the submarine will be a “platform for strategic position in line with GOI policy”.

“We must not jump the gun. It is critical at this stage to understand that the weapons platform for the submarine is what will make it a strategic asset,” Chellaney said.

The specifications and configuration of the submarine remain top secret, and the presentation makes specific mention of what goes into the boat, though it does establish that the submarine has been built with stealth physics characteristics, modern dynamics and modular architecture that will allow it to be upgraded with new and better systems easily in the future. Interestingly, after Headlines Today broadcast its report on the secret presentation, Defence Minister AK Antony declined to comment. He said, “I cannot comment on the country’s strategic capabilities,” which in itself is evolution from the tradition of absolute denial.

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