Russia has handed over the nuclear-powered attack submarine Nerpa to India following more than two years of delays, a senior naval official was quoted as saying Friday.
"The signing ceremony happened yesterday at the Bolshoi Kamen ship building facility in the (Far East) Primorye region where the Nerpa is now based," the official in the naval chief of staff told ITAR-TASS.
Russian reports said an Indian crew would sail the Akula II class craft to its home base at the end of January after receiving it on a 10-year lease that has angered India's arch-rival Pakistan and resulted in retaliation threats.
The craft is due to reach its Bay of Bengal base of Visakhapatnam under the Indian flag in February and be commissioned by the navy in March.
"All of the naval tests and performance checks have been completed," the Russian official said.
"The crew will begin making themselves feel at home on board the craft after New Year and start sailing it to India in the latter half of January."
An unnamed Russian official at the Amur district facility where the Nerpa was built added that the "Indian side is fully satisfied by the volume and quality of the tests" completed on the Nerpa at sea.
The Nerpa will be the first nuclear-powered submarine to be operated by India in nearly two decades after it decommissioned its last such Soviet-built vessel in 1991.
India is currently completing the development of its own Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic submarines and the Nerpa's delivery is expected to help crews train for the domestic boat's introduction into service next year.
The Russian Pacific port ceremony was held on the same day that a shipyard fire engulfed the Northern Fleet's Yekaterinburg nuclear-powered strategic submarine in the Murmansk region on the opposite side of the country.
The Nerpa had initially been due to be handed over to India in 2009 but experienced various problems during testing.
It suffered a mishap during trials in the Sea of Japan in November 2008 that killed 20 sailors when a fire extinguisher released a deadly chemical that was accidentally loaded into the system.
Media reports said that some of the ship's equipment malfunctioned during testing and that the weapons navigation system did not work to India's specifications.
The 8,140-tonne vessel can fire a range of torpedoes as well as Granat cruise missiles that can be nuclear-tipped.
India has promised not to arm the submarine with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles under its obligations to international treaties it adopted after conducting a series of atomic tests in the 1990s.
But the craft's delivery has still upset Pakistan.
"Rest assured, there will be no compromise in terms of maintaining the credibility of our deterrence," Pakistan foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit was quoted as saying by The Asian Age newspaper this week.
The submarine is due to be commissioned as the INS Chakra in India under a 2004 agreement that has seen the South Asian giant pay $650 million in construction costs.
Newspaper reports in India said New Delhi may end up paying as much as $900 million under the terms of the deal. Russia's RIA Novosti news agencies valued the contract at $920 million.
Russia supplies 70 percent of India's military hardware but New Delhi has been unhappy about delays to arms orders from Moscow and has looked to other suppliers including Israel and the United States in recent years.
© 2011 AFP
Date: Dec 30, 2011