History of Submarines in India and their Significance in Indo-Russian Defence ties.

The argumentation of the self propelled torpedo and the submerged diesel engine run by powerful storage batteries culminated in the formation of what modern navies call submarines. The submarines came into prominence during the earlier years of this century and gained ample infamy by unleashing mayhem upon Allied merchant and naval shipping during World War I. The submarine is an impregnable weapon system and without a submarine no navy in this world can be considered complete. The Second World War witnessed the reaffirmation of the submarine’s role as an offensive force at sea. During the Second World War the battleships were replaced by the aircraft carriers due to their ability to support a fleet and aircraft operations, far ashore. The second half of the twentieth century has witnessed nations fermenting for submarines in addition to traditional battleships. By 2000, the traditional diesel submarines had lost its presence by the massive introduction of the nuclear submarines.

AS for the Indian Navy, There are Different Classes of Submarines under which Commissioned, Decommissioned and Active Submarines are present, they are-

  • Chakra (Akula II) class.
  • Arihant class.
  • Shishumar class.
  • Kalvari class.
  • Sindhughosh class.
  • Charlie class, Vela class.
  • Sindhughosh class.

INS Chakra (S71) and INS Arihant from Chakra (Akula II) class and Arihant Class are the only two submarines at present that are Nuclear Powered whereas others are Diesel-Electric. The Indian Navy will train on INS Chakra leased from Russia in 2012. Countries like Russia, China, France and now India possess nuclear-powered submarines.


During the period 1939-1945, Royal Indian Navy (RIN) underwent a phenomenal expansion. The proposal to acquire a submarine for the Indian Navy started but was discouraged by the British naval officers who were then still in commanding positions in the Indian Navy. Back then, the sophisticated technology and the skills required to operate submarines were beyond the capability of the Indians. When India attained independence, its officers and men who had seen the havoc caused by submarines in the North Atlantic, first hand, pressed for the creation of a submarine arm. But it took several years before the plunge was taken. The Navy’s ten year plan 1948 – 1958 gave lesser priority to the Submarine Arm because it could not be created by 1958. In 1951, since large scale naval expansion could not be afforded, the Navy proposed a ship replacement programme instead of a ship acquisition programme. There was no plan to acquire a submarine in this plan. The Royal Indian Air Force had existed for only ten years but at the date of partition possessed some 11 squadrons of aircraft. During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union (USSR) had a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship.

INS Kalvari, the first Indian Naval submarine joined the fleet in December 1967. Kalvari is ‘Tiger Shark’ in Hindi. A Foxtrot class Soviet design, she was built for reliability and very long range. The Foxtrots had an underwater snorkeling range of 11,000 nautical miles (~20,000 kms) with reserves. She was the first of 8. The Foxtrots laid the foundation of training and tactics for the Indian Naval Submarine Arm.

In 1962 we finally proposed to buy a brand new Oberon class submarine, then the latest the British had at GBP 5 million provided the British Government would provide soft credit to ease our then tough forex situation. Our Navy was so closely intertwined with the Royal Navy in those days and so many Indian personnel went to the UK for training that to their credit the British submariners treated our men as a full part of the crew and gave them real experience of handling a boat. After the 1962 debacle with China the Americans and the British were willing to sell us Army and Air Force equipment (to defend against the Chinese) but not submarines. A quick review by the Indian Navy indicated that the Soviet subs were as good as the British Oberon and came at a price of Rs 3 crores a piece paid for in Rupees and not USD.


It all started in 1468 when Russian traveller Afanasy Nikitin began his journey to India. Between 1468 and 1472, he travelled through Persia, India and the Ottoman Empire. The documentation of his experiences during this journey is compiled in the book The Journey Beyond Three Seas. Russia is one country that India cannot afford to sideline, as it is the only trusted partner with whom India has mutual compatibility and a close political, military and economic partnership for decades. Russia (and the Soviet Union) contributed to creating India’s key strengths and capabilities in the nuclear, defence, space and heavy industry sectors when no other country was willing to support India’s endeavours to modernise. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia inherited the close relationship with India. This resulted in India and Russia sharing a Special Relationship. Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, antiterrorism co-operation and space. However, in recent years a sixth component, economic, has grown in importance with both countries setting a target for US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025. In order to facilitate this target both countries are looking to develop a free trade agreement. Bilateral trade between both countries in 2012 grew by over 24%. The powerful IRIGC (India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission) is the main body that conducts affairs at the governmental level between both countries. Both countries are members of many international bodies where they jointly collaborate closely on matters of shared national interest. Important examples include the UN, BRICS, G20 and SCO. Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, Russia has expressed interest in joining SAARC with observer status in which India is a founding member. India is the second largest market for the Russian defence industry. In 2017, approximately 68% of the Indian Military’s hardware import came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defence equipment. India has an embassy in Moscow and two consulates-general (in Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok). Russia has an embassy in New Delhi and four consulates-general (in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai).

Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering announced the signing of a multi-crore agreement with Russia-based JSC Ship Repairing Centre Zvyozdochka for medium refits and life certification of eight EKM 877 submarines in India. Under the terms of the agreement, Zvyozdochka will provide complete technical assistance and support to the JV, including inter alia for enhancement of infrastructure at the Pipavav facilities, training of engineers among others. While the first of the four submarines will be upgraded at Severodvinsk in Russia, the plan is to upgrade the remaining three in an Indian yard as part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The Sindhukesari will be the first of the Indian Kilo class submarines to undergo the life extension upgrade to 35 years even though the Russian Navy has done this ‘second refit’ to its fleet. Zvezdochka and will be sending the first submarine for the refit in June next year.

Signaling a difference in approach by the Modi-led government, India is now looking to lease a newly built, customised submarine, unlike in the past when older vessels were refurbished and handed over. India has the ‘Chakra 2’ Akula class nuclear submarine in service that is considered to be one of the deadliest non-US attack boats in the world. This submarine – a refurbished Soviet era boat – has been taken on a 10-year lease from Russia in 2012. ‘Chakra 1’, India’s first nuclear submarine, was taken on a similar lease in the late 1980s. While talks on leasing a third Chakra have been on for over two years, a change of stand has taken place after the new government took over, with the Indian side insisting on a modern, world-class submarine on lease. The only nuclear attack submarine of this kind being produced in Russia currently is the Yasen class, the quietest, least detectable submarine it has ever built.

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