India’s Project 75 SSKs: Too Late to Save the Submarine Force?
Fires on 2 subs place focus on poor Indian procurement practices; Sindhurakshak sinking being investigated as sabotage.
April 10/14: The Sindhuratna Board of Inquiry is reportedly recommending the court martial of a Commodore, and a notation of “severe displeasure” on the records of 2 mid-ranking officers. Another change at the top may be on the way, courtesy of India’s electorate. dna India, “Sindhuratna mishap: Navy Board of Inquiry recommends action against officers” | PTI, “Top Navy officer may face court martial in submarine mishap”.
April 9/14: Sabotage? A preliminary Board of Inquiry still isn’t ruling out sabotage, which was an immediate conclusion when the Kilo Class boat INS Sindhurakshak sank in August 2013. While the initial, minor explosion could have been an accident, malfunction, or human error, the major explosions are attributed to the torpedoes. Those supposedly can’t trigger without human intervention, but the old saw about making things foolproof always applies. More can’t be known until the submarine is fully salvaged around August 2014, and forensic tests can be performed. Sources: The Hindu, “Sindhurakshak may have been sabotaged: probe” | Hindustan Times, “INS Sindhurakshak fire: ‘Sabotage’ angle in report is disturbing”.
April 6/14: Fire. The Kilo Class boat INS Matanga catches fire while undergoing a refit at Mumbai’s Naval dockyard. It’s a minor incident, involving a contractor performing steel welding in the Sewage Treatment Plant compartment and causing insulating material in the adjacent compartment to smolder. This isn’t something that would happen at sea, and they put the fire out immediately. Deccan Chronicle, “Fire on board INS Matanga at the Naval dockyard in Mumbai, no causalities reported”.
Feb 26/14: Fire. The Kilo Class submarine INS Sindhuratna experiences a fire during training near Mumbai, killing 2 officers and felling 7 sailors unconscious due to smoke inhalation. The problem was a smoke build-up in the Kilo Class submarine’s battery compartment – a problematic area that has been subject to procurement delays. The Times of India explains:
“TOI has learnt that the batteries on INS Sindhuratna were old and had not been replaced. “The batteries were not changed during its refit (maintenance) that was done in December 2013. The submarine is a diesel-electric vessel, which runs on battery power provided by 240 lead acid batteries weighing about 800 kg each. These batteries tend to release flammable hydrogen gas, especially when they are being charged, and submarines have safety systems to address emergencies arising out of this. Old batteries are even worse,” the source said.”
The submarine wasn’t fully loaded with weapons, which was extremely fortunate for all involved. Reuters adds:
“One former senior submariner describes a gridlock in which bureaucrats make “observations” and note their “reservations”, but make no decisions to buy or replace equipment for fear of being implicated in corruption scandals. “No one wants to touch the damn thing,” he said, noting that delays also cause procurement costs to escalate.”
In response, chief admiral DK Joshi resigns. Joshi is known as a very upright character, and he’s upholding an important tradition by his actions, while also reportedly expressing his own dissatisfaction with the MoD. It’s certainly convenient for some politicians to have him take the blame, but that may not be where the real problem is. Sources: Hindustan Times, “INS Sindhuratna mishap: Navy chief resigns as 2 go missing, 7 injured” | Firstpost India, “INS Sindhuratna: Report on battery system overhaul will haunt AK Antony” | NDTV, “Two officers died in fire on board submarine INS Sindhuratna, confirms Navy” | Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Navy setbacks show defence challenges facing next Indian govt” | Times of India, “Major mishap averted as INS Sindhuratna wasn’t fully loaded”.
India’s submarine fleet currently consists of 16 boats: 10 Russian SSK Kilo (Sindhugosh) Class, 4 locally built SSK U209 (Shishumar) Class, a leased nuclear-powered Improved Akula Class SSN from Russia (INS Chakra), and its own INS Arihant SSBN. Most of the Kilos have been modernized, but readiness rates for India’s existing submarine fleet sits below 40%, and the U209s will have trouble lasting much beyond 2015. With Pakistan acquiring modern submarines, and Chinese submarine building exploding, expanding India’s submarine fleet became an obvious national priority.
In 2005, India confirmed that it would buy 6 Franco-Spanish Scorpene diesel submarines, with an option for 6 more and extensive technology transfer agreements. Unfortunately, 7 years after that deal was signed, “Project 75″ has yet to field a single submarine. A poor Indian procurement approach, and state-run inefficiency, are pushing the country’s overall submarine force toward an aging crisis. This DID FOCUS article covers the Scorpene deal and its structure, adds key contracts and new developments, and offers insights into the larger naval picture beyond India.
The Scorpene Class
India’s Submarine Programs
Schedule, Cost & Plans
Timeline & Industrial Arrangements
The AIP Option
India’s Submarine Plans
India’s Scorpene Project: Contracts & Key Events
2006 – 2008
Appendix A: India’s Current Submarine Force, and Rival Navies
Additional Readings & Sources
Submarines and Platforms
Additional Readings: News and Events
Additional Readings: Rival Navies
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