Moscow: Signalling further delay in the delivery of Akula-II class nuclear attack submarine to India, a senior Russian official has said that it would now be handed
over in March next year.
"Russia will transfer the K-152 Nerpa attack submarine to India on a 10-year lease in March 2011," Governor of Khabarovsk Region Vyacheslav Shport was quoted as saying by the local media in Russia`s Far East.
The Nerpa, which India has sought for long, was to be initially leased in mid-2008 under the USD 900 million deal signed with Moscow in 2004. Russia rescheduled the delivery of the 12,000-tonne nuclear submarine to India to June this year, but that deadline too could not be met as further trials of the vessel were required.
"The vessel has been commissioned. In accordance with the agreement, it will be transferred to India in March of next year," Vyacheslav Shport was quoted as saying by far eastern edition of Kommersant daily.
The nuclear submarine, which has been formally transferred to Russian Navy`s ownership by the Amur Shipyard in Khabarovsk region, is said to be currently undergoing sea trials with the India crew on board.
In November 2008, 21 crew members and technical staff were killed onboard the submarine shortly after the start of sea trials in Sea of Japan following the accidental leak of toxic Freon gas from the automatic fire suppressing system.
The Indian naval sources in Moscow have declined to comment on the Khabarovsk governor`s latest statement, saying the preparations are proceeding as per schedule.
The issue could be taken up at the Indo-Russian intergovernmental military-technical commission`s meeting in New Delhi on October 7, during Russian Defence Minister
Anatoly Serdyukov`s India visit next week. India hopes to train its personnel on board the Nerpa, to be rechristened INS Chakra, as it expects to operate three indigenously developed nuclear-powered vessels in the next five years.
It had last July launched nuclear-powered INS Arihant, which is at present under construction in Visakhapatnam and is expected to join the fleet in about two years.
Indian Navy has already sent its first set of crew to get trained on Nerpa in Russian waters and to sail it to India once it is handed over at a port in Russia. At present Indian Navy has no nuclear-powered vessel in operation, though it had operated a Charlie class nuclear submarine between 1988 and 1991 mainly gaining experience in its operations.
The Charlie class submarine was leased out to India by Russia and was rechristened INS Chakra. Upon expiry of the lease period, India returned the submarine to Russia, where
the vessel joined its Pacific Fleet.