S M Hali Last year India had launched its indigenously built (with technical assistance from Russia), the Arihant (Destroyer of Enemies), which is undergoing extensive sea trials in the Bay of Bengal before its induction as a nuclear powered sub in 2012. The irony of the date of its launch - July 26, 2009 - coinciding with Kargil Vijay Diwas, the anniversary celebrating Indias retaking of military posts in Kargil in 1999, was not lost on Pakistan. Meanwhile, the delivery of another nuclear submarine of the Akula class, which is being leased for 10 years from Russia and is likely to join the Indian Navy (IN), is hitting snags. The construction of the Nerpa, an 8,140-tonne Project 971 Shchuka-B (NATO: Akula II) type nuclear powered attack submarine, was started in 1993, but suspended due to lack of funding. Nerpa was launched in October 2008 and entered service with the Russian Navy in late 2009. After its eventual lease to the IN now expected in mid 2010, it will be re-commissioned as INS Chakra. Indias experience with another Chakra, a 1960s vintage Charlie-class submarine which served the IN from 1988-91, was abysmal since most of the submarines sea-time was limited by propulsion system problems and there were unconfirmed reports about radiation hazards. According to experts, the new Chakra (Nerpa) is being leased to help India fill the void caused by the delays in the indigenous 'Advanced Technology Vessel project to build a nuclear powered, guided missile attack submarine, which was conceived 25 years ago during Indira Gandhis reign. Nerpa was laid down at the Komsomolsk-on-Amur shipyard in 1993, but its completion was delayed for nearly a decade due to lack of funds caused by the economic crisis of the early 1990s. The partly-constructed vessel was mothballed until 2004, till the Indian government decided to fund the project and acquire it on lease for IN. The vessel was intended to be completed by 2007, but underwent further delays since it has been jinxed from its very inception. In October 2008, an accident with its fire-extinguishing system flooded two compartments with Freon gas, killing 20 crew members and injuring 21 others on board the Nerpa. The radiation levels may have exceeded limits, but secrecy shrouded the incident and delayed its delivery. The sea trials resumed on July 10, 2009, following extensive repairs costing around $60 million. However, the standard of the vessels construction have been criticised by several commentators. Alexander Golts, defence editor of Yezhednevny Zhurna newspaper, said that in the 1980s, the Amur shipyard turned out submarines one after another, like pancakes, but from 1993 to 2008 had produced just one. The old specialists had left, and the new ones lacked professionalism. An unnamed worker at the Amur shipyard told Komsomolskaya Pravda that there were questions about the quality of the metal that was used in building the nuclear submarine, and alleged that when the first trials of the submarine were carried out water was leaking in between the seams So it is not surprising that the work dragged on. During May 2009, the repairs were reported to be almost complete and new sea trials were planned for June 15 to 20. However, by October 2009, the work had still not been completed due to the shipyards electrical supply having been disconnected. Nikolai Povzyk, the head of the shipyard, complained they had not been paid the 1.9 billion rubles ($63.8 million) owed for the work carried out on the Nerpa. Meanwhile, sleazy wheeling and dealing, huge delays and financial irregularities continue to pervade in all Indian defence deals. India had announced its plans to build six diesel-powered Scorpene SSK-class submarines at a naval dockyard in Mumbai at a cost of $1.8billion. However, the opposition charges that the Indian government had paid $113million more than the estimated cost of the submarines, alleging that the extra-money was paid as kickbacks and has called for the contract to be scrapped. The Indian Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) have also hammered the defence establishment for glaring lapses in the two biggest naval projects that are the acquisition of Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and indigenous construction of six French Scorpene submarines. On January 13, 2009, in a programme on CNN-IBN TV quoting the case of INS Sindhukirti, a frontline Kilo class attack submarine of the Indian Navys repair schedule lasting 10 years, it was revealed that it has been in dry dock at Vizag for a refit programme for close to five years now. Furthermore, it quoted CAGs confidential report findings: > Only seven of Indias 16 submarines are available for combat at any time. > 10 of these 16 ageing submarines will be due for phase-out by 2012. > To maintain current numbers, one submarine needs to be inducted every two years, but there has been no addition since 2001. > Indias only submarine-making facility in Mumbai was kept idle for 12 years. > The gaping hole in Indias naval capability is showing. Although the addition of Arihant and Chakra to the IN may give it a figurative edge; however, the technological snags in the Indian Naval Fleet should not let Pakistan Navys (PN) guard down. Neither should it be goaded into a meaningless arms race. Pakistani decision-makers must weigh their options pragmatically. Instead of the more expensive nuclear sub, we could opt for Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology for our subs, enabling them to remain submerged for longer durations. Decision on the induction of new subs must be taken immediately. We already have an edge over India in submarine launched missile capability and if and when nuclear warhead is provided to our cruise missile Babur, we will have a potent deterrent. At the same time, Pakistan must impress upon the other littoral states in the region to take cognisance of Indian aspiration to rule the waves that are a lifeline not only for Pakistan, but all the other navies in the region, making it imperative for them to group together and ensure IN does not pose a threat to their Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC). The writer is a political and defence analyst.