First the Indian and then the Russian media have reported that India and Kyrgyzstan intend to cooperate in testing torpedoes on Lake Issyk Kul 250 kilometres from Bishkek. Test ranges on a mountain lake in Central Asia far removed from the sea were built in Soviet times to test the products of the Dastan plant, which was developing the Shkval (Squall) super-speed jet-propelled torpedo capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Dastan fell under the Kyrgyzstan government’s jurisdiction and was virtually defunct. Even though just about anything could be bought in Kyrgyzstan, foreign special services were struggling to make replicas of Shkval torpedoes. Only the German and Iranian Navies have managed to do it - in the last three years. The secrets of Shkval production are thought to have been leaked abroad under former Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Ever since Kyrgyzstan became independent, it has been promising to hand over Dastan to Russia but has not done so on a variety of pretexts. In 2008, it was reported that the Government of Kyrgyzstan would lease the Dastan base to the Russian Navy for $4.5 million a year. Sources in Kyrgyzstan report that pressure from the United States, which has an air base at Manas airport, is stopping Bishkek from giving up the Dastan base.
The base has the infrastructure needed for launching torpedoes and carrying out the requisite research. It also has many sensors and tracking devices to determine the torpedoes speed and test their targeting and control systems.
The Indian media report that the base in Kyrgyzstan will be used to develop and test autonomous unmanned submersibles for the Indian Navy, enabling the country to arm its Navy with nuclear torpedoes to which there is no counter-weapon. That would give India an edge over China, which is not known to have such torpedoes today.
In spite of the numerous press reports to the effect that Dastan was visited by Indian Defence Minister Arakkaparambil Kurian Antony, director of the torpedo test range Vladimir Stepanov denies the reports about the handover of this particular base to India. The facility in question is Ulan, OAO, created in 1992 on the basis of the torpedo test range on Lake Issyk Kul, he says. It has maintained mutually beneficial cooperation with the Indian Defence Ministry since the mid-1990s. “But for the Indian orders, the enterprise would not have survived”, says Stepanov. A high-powered Indian military delegation is due to visit Lake Issyk Kul in October to negotiate with the country’s government and estimate the cost of developing the torpedo centre. It might be called by its old name, Dastan, or the new name, Ulan. Kyrgyz companies experienced in making torpedoes are also expected to work at the centre.
Experts note that this is the second point where Russian and Indian interests clash in Central Asia. The first was the former Soviet airfield Aini near Dushanbe in Tajikistan. India had already invested several million dollars in its reconstruction before it transpired that, in addition to Russia and India, the French Air Force had designs on the airfield.
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