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Two big leaps forward

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Two events in as many days should make us proud and repose confidence in indigenous technology and trust in our own R&D and capabilities of Indian...

Two events in as many days should make us proud and repose confidence in indigenous technology and trust in our own R&D and capabilities of Indian scientists and engineers. The first was the nuclear reactor on INS Arihant that went critical on Saturday and the second was the launch of an aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on Monday. The twin achievements have put India almost on a par with a five-member elite league consisting of the US, the UK, Russia, China and France. Incidentally, these are also the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Arihant is the country’s first nuclear-powered sub and, with its mini nuclear reactor becoming operational, the 6,000-tonne behemoth, built at Vizag under a shroud of secrecy, will head for sea acceptance trials before being inducted into the strategic command.

It’s a 43-year-old dream come true for many of the scientists who have been associated with the project. In 1970, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had mooted the idea of a nuclear sub to deter – or challenge the hegemony of Big Powers – other countries from attacking India. Hurdles and impediments that include funds crunch, export curbs on sensitive technologies and lack of R&D facilities have delayed the project so much that most of the people had forgotten that the country had been pursuing its goal silently without making waves until the news and the monopoly of Big Powers was broken.

India is known to have been working on mini nuclear reactors whose applications are immense in a world that is going mini-way. If the nuclear sub’s sea trials prove successful, we can boast of being No 6 with nuclear subs. With two other nuclear subs in the pipeline – INS Aridhaman and another similar vessel – the third arm of the most ambitious Triad plan will be complete. The other two are land and air nuclear capable missile forces. Needless to say, India’s progress in testing and inducting various types of missiles into the armed forces is noteworthy.

If Vizag is remembered for building the first indigenous nuclear sub, Kochi is for launching the aircraft carrier. The Rs500-crore INS Vikrant, when it comes into full service in 2018, pushes a knot ahead of China in designing and building an aircraft carrier. Touted to be most modern of its kind, the 40,000 tonne vessel’s deadly striking power includes MiG-29 fighter jets, indigenous Light Combat Aircraft and a range of choppers. At present, India has an ageing aircraft carrier – 60-year-old British vessel INS Viraat – that has to be phased out.

A Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov, now rechristened INS Vikramaditya, was supposed to have joined the Navy a couple of years ago but cost escalations have delayed it so much that it is doubtful whether it would become part of our strategic force by this year end, although officials are hopeful of getting it after extensive refitting to suit our needs. India is eyeing to build at least two more aircraft carriers to serve its Eastern and Western Command structures. Still on the drawing boards, the vessels are planned to be bigger in size than the INS Vikrant whose launch marked the end of the first phase of its construction. It will now be fitted with offensive and defensive weaponry.

INS Arihant and Vikrant, no doubt, will take us a step closer to indigenous development and construction of strategic defences. But what is more important is the undue delay in executing the projects. For instance, the nuclear sub took more than four decades and the aircraft carrier over six years to materialize. No doubt, both the projects involve a number of departments and inter-disciplinary work which is bound to hold up the work. With the government easing norms for private sector participation in defence projects, hopefully, they will get the much-needed boost in the coming years and the projects completed on schedule.

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