The project, earlier known as ATV (Advanced Technology Vessel), began way back in 1998 but picked up pace only in the mid-2000s. In 2009, it was launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's wife Gursharan Kaur at a ceremony in Vizag, headquarter of India's Eastern Naval Command.
Those associated with the projected from its inception will be satisfied professionals today. Indian Navy designers, engineers, scientists of the Department of Atomic Energy, Defence Research and Development (DRDO) and most importantly private sector companies led by the redoubtable Larsen & Toubro (L&T) deserve heartfelt thanks from the nation from having achieved the milestone.
In a rare public comment, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has congratulated those associated with the project. He said: "I am delighted to learn that the nuclear propulsion reactor on board INS Arihant, India’s first indigenous nuclear powered submarine, has now achieved criticality. I extend my congratulations to all those associated with this important milestone, particularly the Department of Atomic Energy, the Indian Navy and the Defence Research and Development Organization.
"Today’s development represents a giant stride in the progress of our indigenous technological capabilities. It is testimony to the ability of our scientists, technologists and defence personnel to work together for mastering complex technologies in the service of our nation’s security.
"I look forward to the early commissioning of the INS Arihant."
That's the next important step. Now that the reactor is a "go" the submarine will make shallow dives, complete the deep diving trials and prepare for the weapon trials of the torpedoes and missiles with dummy warheads to be ready for commissioning. Once at sea, the vessel will be gradually loaded with weapons and missiles. Each test will be conducted underwater for two months or more. This will include the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). In the past the Navy has carried out 10 underwater launches of SLBMs code named ‘B05’ using a submerged pontoon to mimic a submarine. So far the range has been 700 km, while the bigger variant, know as the ‘K-4’, is designed to hit targets 3,500 km away.
The boat will then be commissioned in to the Indian Navy.
Top government sources indicate it is likely to happen over the next few months.
Like all professionals, the team that brought Arihant to this stage is now focused on the next two submarines in the series being built in the same shipyard. Their aim: Take the indigenous content of the next two nuclear submarines from the 40 to 60 and then to 70 per cent by the time the third submarine is ready for commissioning possibly by 2017. The combined team that has built Arihant is however proud of the fact that its digital control systems are designed competely locally which means no dependence on foreign vendors in this critical aspect.
According to Commodore Ranjit Rai, a former Director, Naval Operations and Naval Intelligence, this project has seen a huge collaborative effort.
Writing in a defence magazine some years ago, he had observed: "A large planning and design office called Akanksha (Hope) in New Delhi, has directed the ATV programme under the current Director General, retired Vice Admiral D S P Verma. Facilities at Vishakapatnam have been built by the DRDO, industry and the Indian Navy with BARC’s collaboration with funds and monitoring from the PMO.