Failure of India’s Submarine Experiment

Submarine ablaze in Mumbai By Sajjad Shaukat

With the support of the US, both India and Israel have been acting upon a secret diplomacy, targeting China and Pakistan. In this context, Israel’s Ambassador to India, Mark Sofer in an interview to the Indian weekly Outlook on February 18, 2008 disclosed about India’s defence arrangements with Tel Aviv, and joint exercises in the Indian Ocean, saying, “We do have a defence relationship with India, which is no secret” and “with all due respect, the secret part will remain a secret.”   On September 5, 2003 American Wall Street Journal pointed out, “The U.S. finally gave its approval to Israel’s delivery of Phalcon Airborne Warning & Controlling Systems (AWACS) to India”—this “sale might affect the conventional weapons balance between India and Pakistan”. On February 28, 2003 Jerusalem Post revealed, in the “Israeli sale of the Arrow-II anti-ballistic missile defense system to India…the US was a collaborator”, and “both India and Israel could be acquiring an element of strategic depth by setting up logistical bases in the Indian Ocean for their navies.”

On May 10, 2009, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta had stated that New Delhi “will soon float tenders to acquire six submarines.” Mehta also accused Beijing by saying, “Indian Navy would keep a close watch on the movements of Chinese submarines which are operating out of an underground base in the South China Sea” and “wish to enter the Indian Ocean”. However, under the pretension of Chinese threat, Washington, New Delhi and Israel are plotting to block the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean for their joint strategic goals.

Apart from Israel, New Delhi also purchased modern weapons from Russia, US and other western countries, especially to develop its naval programme.

However, Indian experiment failed when on August 14, this year, its navy submarine INS Sindhurakshak caught fire after a huge explosion, and sank along side its berth. The next day, it went down completely with 18 crew members. At the time of incident, the submarine was fully weaponised with torpedoes and Russian made land attack missiles. INS Sindhurakshak was commissioned in to the Indian Navy on December 24, 2007. It underwent major modifications and upgradation in Russia at a cost of $80 million.

The sinking of Indian submarine ‘INS Sindhurakshak’ took place a day after India launched its first indigenous aircraft carrier and activated the reactor on board its locally designed nuclear submarine ‘INS/M ARIHANT’.

Showing contradictory statements, Indian defense analysts and various submarine officers have delved on the possibilities which caused fire and loud explosions on board the submarine. Many of them opined that two of the on board missiles accidentally got fired—the detonation of missiles, one of which struck the wall, the second partially damaging another submarine berth along side, is the main cause of the incident. While some others pointed out that anti-Submarine Warfare officer, while running down the tests on the missiles, might have accidentally triggered the missiles or might have been lacking expertise in operating Fire Control System. It was also possible that night time loading of the missiles might have tired the sailors out and the missiles were wrongly housed.

While addressing the parliament, the Indian defense minister, confirmed to the house that blasts on the submarine might have been caused by possible ignition of armament. This theory is also seconded by the Russian manufacturers of the submarine. They also point to human error as a crew member, while wrongly checking the connectivity of the missiles might have led to short circuiting, leading to explosion of the hydrogen fumes and triggering of the missiles.

In fact, the night time loading of the missiles is carried out for secrecy when a submarine is scheduled to proceed on war patrol.

According to Indian media, the night before the accident, the submarine was ready in all respects to proceed to sea in first light on August 14. Also, many of the defense analysts and media persons have even gone to relate the night time arming of the submarine to building of tensions along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan.

The fact that the two significant evolutions were compromised at one time in complete violation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), has also been referred to by the same analysts as expediting the preparations—the lower threshold of Indian navy’s forward posturing.

The nuclear analysts are also perplexed that such compromises being carried out by the officer cadre of the Indian Navy, what would have happened, if it was not a conventional submarine but a nuclear submarine. The experts stopped short of narrating the dire consequences, if such incident happened on Indian nuclear submarine berthed along side in one of India’s harbors.

Russians are uncomfortable with India’s ability to safely in running nuclear submarine, and therefore, they have kept a team of around ten Russian nuclear submarines’ technicians on board on its ‘Akula’ Class submarine leased to India.

It is not new incident, since 2005, at least 10 serious incidents have been reported. Among them five are related to the Sindhughosh-class of submarines, of which Sindhurakshak is the one. For example, in April 2006 INS Prahar Naval Patrol vessel was sunk. Similarly, in January 2008, INS Sindhu-gosh, with a large foreign-owned cargo ship meant a cold watery grave. And in January 2011, Indian naval ship INS Vindhyagiri caught fire after collision with a foreign merchant vessel at the Mumbai harbour.

Nevertheless, whatever the dynamics which led to the sinking of Indian submarine Sindhurakshak, the failure of experiment highlights the professional incompetence, violations of SOPs, poor standards of safety conscientiousness. The incident has certainly brought down the Indian navy’s submarine capability. The ill-preparedness of Indian navy in handling such crises has also been highlighted. Due to its inability to deal with such accidents, India has approached US and Scandinavian experts who have carried out their surveys and now await heavy machinery and heavy cranes to lift the submarine out of water.

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations


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