An Indian nuclear submarine on lease from Russia was seen transiting the Straits of Malacca, which NDTV reported was being returned to Moscow ahead of its lease expiry in 2022.
The Project 971 Akula 2-class submarine was seen being escorted by Russian naval vessels- a large anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs (Project 1155 Udaloy-class) and the sea tug Kalar out of the Malacca Straits heading towards the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok.
Earlier, the submarine was reportedly escorted by Indian naval ships on its voyage from India.
"A detachment of ships of the Pacific Fleet consisting of the large anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and the sea tug Kalar arrived in the Republic of Singapore and anchored in the Changi naval base for taking in water and fuel,” said Interfax quoting the Pacific Fleet.
The names of the ships tallies with that mentioned in a Tweet by OSINT which showed satellite imageries of the nuclear submarine being escorted by the two Russian ships.
The 8,140-ton INS Chakra was the Indian Navy’s only nuclear-powered attack submarine. The vessel was commissioned by the service in April 2012. It is being returned ten months prior to the expiry of the ten-year lease that cost New Delhi approximately $2 billion.
Sources told NDTV that the early return of the submarine became necessary because of its ''increasingly unreliable powerplant and maintenance issues'' besides the overall condition of the vessel which was extensively used by the Indian Navy to train crews on advanced nuclear submarines. This was a critical learning experience that paved the way for Navy officers to graduate to the made-in-India ballistic missile submarines, INS Arihant and INS Arighat, which presently form India's submarine-based nuclear deterrent.
INS Chakra will eventually be replaced by a more advanced variant of the same class of submarine which will also be known by the name Chakra. A $3 billion deal was signed in March 2019 for a ten-year lease for the new submarine, the delivery of which is expected by 2025. This will leave the Indian Navy without a nuclear-powered attack submarine for approximately four years.
While ballistic missile submarines of the Arihant Class (a fleet of four in total is planned) will be the last line of defense in the event of a nuclear standoff, the Navy hopes to acquire six nuclear-powered attack submarines. These will be built in India, though Russia and France are seen to be likely design and development partners in what would be one of India's most ambitious weapons development programmes. Reports suggest that the Navy has been told to prioritise the acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines ahead of a third aircraft carrier.