Nuclear Weapons

India’s SSBN Shows Itself

09.29.12 | 2 min read | Text by Hans Kristensen
A new satellite image appears to show part of India’s new SSBN partly concealed at the Visakhapatnam naval base on the Indian east coast (17°42’38.06″N, 83°16’4.90″E).

By Hans M. Kristensen

Could it be? It is not entirely clear, but a new satellite image might be showing part of India’s first nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant.

The image, taken by GeoEye’s satellite on March 18, 2012, and made available on Google Earth, shows what appears to be the conning tower (or sail) of a submarine in a gap of covers intended to conceal it deep inside the Visakhapatnam (Vizag) Naval Base on the Indian east coast.

The image appears to show a gangway leading from the pier with service buildings and a large crane to the submarine hull just behind the conning tower. The outlines of what appear to be two horizontal diving planes extending from either side of the conning tower can also be seen on the grainy image.

The Arihant was launched in 2009 from the shipyard on the other side of the harbor and moved under an initial cover. An image released by the Indian government in 2010 appears to show the submarine inside the initial cover.

The Indian government published this image in 2010, apparently showing the Arihant inside the initial concealment building.

The new cover, made up of what appears to be 13-meter floating modules that can be assembled to fit the length of the submarine, similarly to what Russia is using at its submarine shipyard in Severodvinsk, first appeared in 2010. Images from 2011 show the modules in various configurations but without the submarine inside.

The movement of the Arihant from the initial cover building to the module covers next to the service facilities and large crane indicates that the submarine has entered a new phase of fitting out. The initial cover building appeared empty in April 2012 when the Indian Navy show-cased its new Russia-supplied Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine: the Chakra.

It is thought that the Arihant is equipped with less than a dozen launch tubes behind the conning tower for short/medium-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Before it can become fully operational, however, the Arihant will have to undergo extensive refitting and sea-trials that may last through 2013. It is expected that India might be building several SSBNs.

Like the other nuclear weapon states, India continues to modernize its nuclear forces, despite pledges to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

See also: Indian nuclear forces, 2012.