In October 2005, the Indian Navy heaved a sigh of relief when Mazagaon Docks Ltd signed a contract with French company Armaris to manufacture six Scorpene submarines. Pending since 2002, the India Navy’s Project 75 to manufacture state-of-the-art submarines was suffering from indecision while its fleet continued to deplete at a dangerous rate.
For decades, the Indian Navy has sought blue water capability — a term that means that it is a navy that will have a presence in the Indian ocean region and also monitor the strategically critical Malacca Straits. To do so, any navy worth its salt would need two platforms.
The first is the aircraft carrier around which modern navies build their Carrier Battle Groups. The second is the submarine, which can stealthily travel and cause immense damage to the enemy when they least expect it.
But for a navy that is desperate to maintain some conventional edge against Pakistan and China, the tragic accident on Tuesday after midnight is a major setback. The INS Sindhurakshak was the latest of the submarines in the Sindhughosh category (better known as the Kilo class) from Russia.
Commissioned in 1997, the INS Sindhurakshak went through a major refit last year and came with new capabilities. It could now carry the deadly Klub class missiles and the Brahmos cruise missiles. It also had better sonars and new electronics that would have added considerable punch to the navy’s submarine fleet.
But two explosions drowned the submarine and also hit the navy’s plans for blue water capability. It is already running short of the 28 authorised fleet strength — it was actually at 14 submarines. Now it is down to 13 submarines and the new Scorpene submarines are nowhere close to being introduced. At least two submarines are expected to be retired by 2015, which means the Indian Navy will be down to 11 submarines till the first Scorpene joins the fleet.
While the navy has met with considerable success with the indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant and also has the Akula class Russian nuclear submarine on lease, it doesn’t have enough muscle underwater.
Today, the navy has to patrol the region from the Horn of Africa right up to the Pacific Ocean near Japan. This needs to be done for strategic and economic reasons as India looks at ever-expanding Chinese naval capabilities.
As Rear Admiral Raja Menon argued in his piece in The Hindu recently, if we are to develop a credible deterrent against the Chinese, the Indian Navy needs to be funded and supported firmly. But the tragic accident that claimed the lives of 18 people on Tuesday night has also hit the navy where it hurts the most.
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The spot where a explosions occurred in INS Sindhurakshak submarine at the naval dockyard in Mumbai. - IANS
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