The sinking of INS Sindhurakshak is the worst accident in India’s 47 years of submarine operations history and a big setback, reports R S Chauhan
Loaded up with its full arsenal and ready to leave for operational deployment in a few hours, none of the 18-member on-duty crew on INS Sindhurakshak could have imagined the nightmare that lay in store for them. At 10 minutes past midnight on Tuesday, when the two explosions hit the Indian Navy's frontline conventional submarine Sindhurakshak, the entire crew on board at that time, which included three officers and 15 sailors, went down with the submarine, nose first.
More than 15 hours later, the submarine has completely sunk. Although the highly-skilled naval divers have managed to enter the submarine, chances of finding any survivors is dim. As the Navy Chief, Admiral D K Joshi, said: "We are hoping for the best but prepared for the worst."
Although no one is willing to hazard a guess on the reasons for what prima facie looks like an accident, there is a conjecture that a deadly combination of hydrogen, oxygen and explosives in the front part of the submarine could be behind the massive explosion. The hydrogen is released by the lead acid batteries that power the submarine, the oxygen in the torpedos and the explosives in the two missiles stored in the weapons chamber are a highly combustible combination.
What could have provided the spark is not clear. The board of inquiry, to be completed in four weeks, will determine the exact cause but for the Indian Navy, the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak is the worst accident in its 47 years of submarine operations history and a big setback too their operations.
The potential loss of what is considered India's most advanced diesel-electric submarine will hit the Indian Navy hard. It had just spent $80 million (about Rs 480 crore) to upgrade it with an improved weapons system and weaponry. With the midlife upgrade the vessel was expected to serve the Indian Navy for at least another decade.
The Indian Navy plans to have more than two dozen submarines, in addition to half a dozen nuclear-powered and nuclear-propelled ones in the next decade, but right now it only has 14 conventional ones, as the diesel powered ones are known, and one N-sub leased for a decade from Russia.
Although four conventional submarines are under construction in the public sector Mazagon Docks Limited in Mumbai, they are four years behind schedule. Ironically, INS Sindhurakshak was the last submarine inducted into the Indian Navy in 1997. So effectively there has been no new submarine induction in the Indian Navy in 16 years.
The Sindhurakshak was one of 10 kilo-class submarines constructed in Russia's shipyards for the Indian Navy from 1985 to 2000. Kilo class vessels can travel at around a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour at a depth of around 900 feet.
This January, it was handed over to India after nearly two years of overhaul and refitting in Russia. It had the latest variant of a Russian-made submarine-specific cruise missile system capable of hitting targets more than 150 miles away.