India’s top secret nuclear submarine project reached another decadal milestone last month with the launch of a second ballistic missile submarine, the Arighat . On November 19, 2019, former Union defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman cracked the auspicious coconut on the fin of the submarine in the drydock of the Ship Building Centre (SBC) in Visakhapatnam in a low-key ceremony.
Following this, the SBC’s drydock was flooded and the submarine quietly floated out. It will be at least another three years before the navy commissions the Arighat.
The event skipped the high-profile public ceremony of the Arihant’s launch in 2009 even as the four-decade Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project to field a series of ballistic missile firing nuclear submarines is now moving at a furious assembly-line pace.
Two new units, the S4 and S4 ‘star’, displacing over 1,000 tons more than the Arihant class will move into the SBC drydock vacated by the two Arihant class submarines. These submarines, fitted with eight ballistic missiles or twice the Arihant’s missile load, will be launched by 2020 and 2022.
An official says the Arighat launch has more to do with creating more work space within the cramped SBC for assembling the S4 and S4*. The ATV project is India’s costliest defence project. The program to build four SSBNs (hull classification symbol for a nuclear-powered, ballistic missile-carrying submarine) is India’s largest defence programme, estimated at Rs 90,000 crore.
Each of these nuclear-powered sharks costs upwards of Rs 4,000 crore, not counting the infrastructure created by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to build their nuclear powered reactors and the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The project’s pan-India spread-headquartered in New Delhi, hull fabrication facility in Gujarat, missile development in Hyderabad, nuclear reactor in Tamil Nadu and final assembly in Visakhapatnam-is the biggest Make in India industrial ecosystem-nearly 60 per cent of the submarine’s components are indigenous.