Seeing the advent of nuclear propulsion in submarines of other navies, a study was undertaken by BARC to study a nuclear propulsion package for naval ships and submarines. A stage arose when it became necessary to train serving personnel in this very important area of propulsion technology.
Nuclear propulsion in India was first mooted in 1967 when a naval officer and a BARC scientist prepared a feasibility report. A more detailed report was prepared in 1971 as the Committee of Secretaries felt that R&D on nuclear propulsion technology was inescapable if India was not to be left too far behind by the end of the century, when atomic energy would be a major source for both propulsion and energy requirements. A small nucleus of engineers were located in BARC as early as 1978.
An agreement was concluded with the Soviet Union and a team of officers under the supervision of Vice Admiral MK Roy was formed to steer the project. After a rigorous selection procedure, the first batch of the nuclear submarine crews, under the command of Captain S Daniel commenced their training in the USSR. The training was, perhaps, the most thorough and taxing course that any of the Indian submariners, most of whom had over a decade of submarining behind them, had ever undergone. They absorbed the new technology with professional aplomb.
The offer by the Soviet authorities of a `nuclear-powered submarine fleet' for the Indian Navy was made by Marshal Ogarkov during his visit to India in April 1981. The Soviets offered to arrange a two years' training program for Indian naval personnel, lease one nuclear submarine for five years for practical training and to render technical assistance for creating maintenance facilities in India for nuclear powered submarines. He added that the sale as also assistance for designing and constructing nuclear-powered submarines could be taken up later. This offer was reiterated by the Defence Minister, Marshal Ustinov.
The Indian Government decided to take the first nuclear propelled submarine from the Soviet Union on lease, as purchase would entail acceptance of NPT conditions. The idea of acquiring a nuclear-propelled submarine was floated by the Defence Minister and after months of bargaining the Soviets agreed.
The lease amount charged by the Soviet Union was fairly reasonable. The nuclear propelled submarine had the advantage of remaining under water which was not possible for the conventional submarines. It was also proposed at that time that a second nuclear propelled submarine would be built in India. The Atomic Energy were confident of producing an atomic power pack for the submarine.
In January 1988 India leased for three years a Soviet nuclear powered attack submarine of the 670A Skat series (CHARLIE class by NATO classification) with eight Ametist (SS-N-7 Starbright) anti-ship missile launchers. In the Indian Navy the ship was called Chakra, and the submarine was manned by a Russian crew training Indian seamen to operate it. INS Chakra under then Capt RN Ganesh operated with Indian Navy from January 1988 to January 1991.
Chakra. The word comes from the Sanskrit "cakra" meaning "wheel, circle", and sometimes also referring to the "wheel of life". The Indian flag is a familiar horizontal tricolor of orange, white, and green, with a blue Ashoka Chakra with 24 spokes at the center. In Hinduism and its spiritual systems of yoga a chakra is thought to be an energy node in the human body. The seven main chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. The flag code of India from the official Home Ministry website of the Indian government states that "The Ashoka Wheel in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change."
During this three year lease period, the Navy was able to better understand: nuclear submarine culture and the practical aspects of handling nuclear power plants afloat; the tactical benefits of underwater launched anti-ship missiles; and anti submarine operations against nuclear submarines.
Upon expiration of the ship leasing term in 1991, the submarine was returned to Russia and decommissioned from the Russian Navy.
On 5 December 2000 India announced new negotiations with Russia to lease a nuclear-powered attack submarine. The goal was to retain the familiarization with nuclear propulsion gained during the three-year lease of the Chakra.
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