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India commissions nuclear-powered submarine

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India has returned to the elite club of countries with a nuclear-powered submarine when by inducting a new vessel leased from Russia.

AK Antony, the Indian defence minister, formally commissioned the INS Chakra II on Wednesday at its base in Visakhapatnam, a naval shipyard on the country's southeast coast in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

India is particularly keen to strengthen its maritime capabilities, given China's pursuit of a powerful "blue water" navy which Delhi sees as a threat to key shipping routes in the Indian Ocean and Indian energy assets in the South
China Sea.

"This will be a big boost for the Indian navy," Antony told reporters. "The INS Chakra will ensure security and sovereignty of the country," he said in televised remarks.

The 8,140-tonne submarine, capable of firing a range of torpedoes, as well as nuclear-tipped Granat cruise missiles, was offered to India by Moscow on a 10-year lease - a deal greeted with alarm and anger by arch rival Pakistan.

India is currently completing the development of its own Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarine and the INS Chakra II is expected to help crews train for the domestic boat's introduction into service later this year.

"Our crews will get the experience of operating under water for several months at a go, unlike with the conventional diesel electric submarines, which have to come to surface at regular intervals," an unnamed navy official told the PTI news agency.

The Russian Akula II-class craft is the first nuclear-powered submarine to be operated by India since it decommissioned its last Soviet-built vessel in 1991.

Elite club

With the INS Chakra and the INS Arihant expected to start operational patrols by the end of the year, India will soon have two nuclear submarines guarding its vast maritime boundaries.

India signed up for the Russian submarine, formally known as Nerpa, in 2004, and it was slated to be handed over in 2009, but testing problems delayed the delivery.

The submarine was undergoing trials in the Sea of Japan in 2008 when its firefighting system accidentally went off, filling it with a toxic gas that killed 20 people on board.

Media reports also said India had complained that the weapons navigation system did not work to New Delhi's specifications.

Russia supplies 70 per cent of India's military hardware, but New Delhi has been unhappy about delays to arms orders from Moscow and has in recent years looked to other suppliers, including Israel and the US.

Five other countries deploy nuclear-powered submarines - Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

India has promised not to arm the submarine with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles under its obligations to international treaties it adopted after conducting a series of atomic tests in the 1990s.


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