The MOD’s 1997 proposal for a 30-year s/m building programme got CCS endorsement only in 1999. It consisted of a long term plan for indigenous construction of twenty-four s/m over a period of thirty years. In 2002, Admiral Madhvender the incumbent CNS, is reported to have commended the recent decision of the government to go ahead with the 30 year s/m building plan. He further added that during the first ten years there will be licensed manufacture of s/m. Subsequently, it will be completely indigenous presumably meaning, indigenous design and production.
The Indian Navy’s (IN) submarine arm, which was founded in December 1967, is at the cusp of its Golden Jubilee year. It has now crossed several significant milestones such as:
- Building of two HDW Shishumar-class SSK submarine (s/m) at Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) Mumbai.
- Kalvari, the first indigenouslybuilt Scorpene-class ssk s/m has commenced sea trials.
- Undertake at Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam [ND(V)]:
– Full range of refits for I641 s/m up to Medium Repair of the boat and Capital Repair of all machinery and equipment on board.
– Short and Normal refit of 877EKM s/m.
– Extended modified MR of Sindhushastra is in progress.
- Undertaking short / normal / extended refit of HDW s/m at Mumbai.
- Extensive operational deployment of its nuclear s/m with cruise missiles (SSGNs) INS Chakra I & II.
- Completion of extensive harbour and sea trials of its first indigenous nuclear s/m with ballistic missiles (SSBN). The operationalisation of its s/m Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), would lead to the commissioning of INS Arihant.
- Take-over of the loss making Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) from the Ministry of Shipping as a Defence PSU Shipyard – preceded by offloading the Medium Repair (MR) of Sindhukriti. Presumably, with the intent of eventually, taking on the shortfall of indigenous s/m building capacity also.
- The RFP for next generation Project 75I is in an advanced state of readiness.
- The long over due – acquisition of s/m rescue vessel is well in hand.
The Submarine Arm of the IN became operational after the commissioning of INS Kalvari on 08 December 1967…
It is proposed here, to take stock of the overall status of the Arm and attempt to give a prognosis of the way forward.
After a prolonged struggle to convince the government of the necessity for a s/m arm – eventually, early in 1960s, the government conceded to send a core team of selected officers for s/m training to HMS Dolphin Royal Navy (RN). Even, at that stage – there was no commitment to acquire a s/m. The Pakistan Navy (PN) had already inducted the PNS Gazi acquired from the USA.
By the time the government decided to acquire s/m from UK – the changed international/local political environment and the deteriorating financial situation in UK resulted in the latter declining to release the s/m that the IN had set its sights on. That was the turning point on the historical relationship between the IN and the RN.
The Soviets had meanwhile been working overtime to wean the IN away from the RN. In 1956, during President Khrushchev’s visit to India, he offered to meet the IN’s entire requirement. In 1963, Marshal Malinowski the Soviet Defence Minister again reaffirmed the offer. During Raksha Mantri YB Chavan’s visit to the USSR in August 1964, his delegation was taken to sea in a s/m.
Eventually, the Agreement was finalised in August/September 1965, which included four, I641 s/m and the s/m support vessel type 1886M. INS Kalvari was inducted into the Navy on 08 December 1967. Thus, heralding the formation of the Submarine Arm. Additional four I641K s/m were inducted into the service between 1971 and 1975.
Submarine Infrastructure Development
A comprehensive scheme for Transfer of Technology (ToT) for base maintenance and repair of the s/m formed a part of separate Agreements.
By that time, the s/m arm had matured and honed its operational and on board maintenance skills including operational deployment on the maritime Eastern, Southern and Western seaboards. The submarine operational authority SM8 and SM9 were also in place at Vizag and Mumbai respectively.
Private sector shipyards are still vying with each other for a piece of the pie – resulting as a fallout of the prospective 30-year s/m building programme…
The task for implementing the Project Report was assigned to Rear Admiral Bhandari as the Director General Naval Project (Vizag).
The specification for each machinery and equipment provided in the Project Report for the respective facility and the selection thereof was made by the professional Directorates with the Chief of Material at NHQ. The detailed technical assignment for the transfer of repair technology for each and every machinery, equipment and ship system was also finalised. Progressively, suitable technical officers and dockyard supervisors were carefully selected and deputed for training in the USSR. On their return, all of them were assigned the task, in the respective shops in ND (V). As the DDME (Soviet Acquisition) at NHQ, the author was responsible for this task, for all engineering facilities. Thereafter, in the mid-1970s, he was appointed to the ND (V) initially as the Production Manager and later as the Senior General Manager (Refit) to operationlise the DY.
Separately, a dedicated composite team of all disciplines were in parallel deputed, to Dal Zavod, a Soviet shipyard in Vladivostock for s/m Medium repair training. Lt. Commander Ravi Bhatia was a key member of the team. On his return, he took charge of the s/m fitting shop and steered it through Medium Repairs (MR) of INS Khandheri. Later, R Admiral Bhatia became the CMD of the Mazagon Dock Ltd. (MDL) and was responsible for re-energising the s/m yard for taking on construction programme for the Scorpene s/m.
The execution of the ND (V) project could not keep pace with the s/m induction schedule because of several civil engineering technological challenges. As a result, the planned repair cum maintenance cycle for the s/m got out of phase. To meet that alarming contingency of piling up of repair/maintenance schedule – a crash programme was initiated to create an interim Navigation Repair facility, on the water front. Essential machinery for the purpose was re-appropriated temporarily from the ND (V) complex. To make up for the shortfall in capacity – a few s/m were per force sent to the USSR.
During 1976 to 1979, the small Base Repair Organisation at Vizag [BRO (V)] was converted into a fully fledged modern Dock Yard [DY] capable of undertaking all major refits of Soviet-origin ships and s/ m. Progressively skilled workforce was recruited to augment the complement. New trades and skills commensurate with the tasks in hand had to be inducted and the DY Apprentice School reoriented, to take on the additional skill/disciplines.
Meanwhile, Mr Malshin, a very capable and dedicated Director of s/m repair facility at Dal Zavod, along with a multidisciplinary specialist team, was also deputed to ND(V) to coincide with the commencement of Khanderi’s MR. Each specialist had come with a mandate to ensure complete ToT. Man for man, each tradesman, in all disciplines, was required to be brought up to mark. As for the Dal Zavod practice, they knew that they would not be relieved till their wards/opposite numbers from the DY were fully trained and the job completed satisfactori ly. This exercise was taken so seriously by the Soviets that at the termination of Malshin’s tenure, he was sent back to Dal Zavod in disgrace and demoted. He was thus penalised for the delay in completion of MR of Khandheri due to no fault of his. The task of ToT was fully implemented, other than the fitting out exercise. That was, entirely due to delay in supply of the material for requisite pressure hull repair scheme.
The HDW deal was closely followed by an agreement with USSR on the supply of six 877EKM s/m…
An MR exercise is considered more complex than building a new s/m. During the MR of INS Khanderi:
- The s/m was entirely stripped to bare hull – both internally and externally.
- The Hull survey was completed. Pressure hull repair scheme worked out – awaiting requisite pressure hull parts from USSR.
- It was intended to replace all machinery, equipment and fitting with new ones.
- In addition, to completing the ToT exercise – all machinery, equipment and on board systems were removed from Khandheri, and put through the full rigours of the capital repair process, including shop trials under the supervision of the soviet specialists. These included the main Diesel Engine, propulsion motors, HP air compressors, all on board auxiliary machinery, equipment and linked systems.
Such an extensive, in-depth, exercise on ToT was unprecedented in India. It would seem a great shame that such expertise acquired at immense effort and considerable expense was allowed to be frittered away. It could also be, that the DY was unable to cope with requirements of the expanding Eastern fleet and had to by compulsion consider, off-loading immediate 877EKM MR arising to Russia and in parallel try and create alternative means indigenously. With that objective in mind, HSL a loss making Ministry of Shipping shipyard was taken over as a Defence sector shipyard. Accordingly, in 2004, the INS Sindhukriti, an 877EKM boat, was allotted to HSL for MR.
A cost benifit analysis between, the supposed savings achieved by the recruitment embargo leading to progressive degradation of MR capability of DY and the outcome to send 877EKM s/m to USSR would be highly revealing.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of s/m building and repair activity being off loaded to Private Sector – the scenario in respect of potential shipbuilders took a dramatic turn for the better. To add to HSL’s woes – this brought about a mass exodus of their experienced and skilled supervisors and workforce to migrate to greener pastures, in the private sector, on the west coast. As a result, the Sindhukriti languished in the yard for almost a decade and more. These private sector shipyards are still vying with each other for a piece of the pie – resulting as a fallout of the prospective 30-year s/m building programme.
The 30-year s/m building programme was originally proposed, in two phases…
Build up of Force Levels
The Pakistan Navy (PN) continued to modernise its s/m force. From Gazi it went on to the Daphne class and then graduated to Agosto 70 & 90B – some with AIP system. They are now in an advanced stage of negotiating with China for six to eight Yuan class Type 041 attack s/m (ssk), with sterling Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. India, on the other hand, is still debating on retrofitting AIP in its earlier boats. The Daphne proved its mettle in the 1971 war by sinking INS Khukri. It was known that Khukri was no match to the Daphne. This woke up the defence bureaucracy and the political leadership to the urgency of providing the Indian Navy with suitable attack s/m. From that awakening emerged the acquisition of four HDW/IKL 1400 class attack s/m from FRG contracted in December 1981.
The HDW deal was closely followed by an agreement with USSR on the supply of six 877EKM s/m. Four more were added in course of time. The impetus for this came after the exchange of high level ministerial delegations b et w e en India and USSR early in 1980. Presidents Reddy and Brezhnev also exchanged visits in October and December of 1980, respectively. The following years culminated in a series of important acquisitions from the USSR for all the three services.
On 14 August 2013 – soon after its refit in Russia, we lost the Sindhurakshak, a 877EKM s/m in a serious accident. In the course of time, it is reported that six out of the remaining nine boats were also refitted and modernised in Russia to carry cruise missiles. It is further reported, that the new incarnation of Pipavav shipyard – the Pipavav Defence & Offshore Engineering Co Ltd (PDOC) in Joint Venture (JV) partnership with the Russian Zvyozdochka s/m overhaul yard, has offered to take on the MR of the rest of the boats. Presumably, they expect that this would put them in a commanding position when they bid for the 75I Project. Another competing entrepreneur is also talking of going into a JV partnership with yet another Russian shipbuilder. Presumably, these are all posturing for a piece of the pie.
Depleting Force Levels
The cumulative effect of the following, has led to severe depletion of the s/m force levels:
- S/M MR capability of ND (V), built after immense effort and considerable expense, was allowed to be frittered away before creating an indigenous alternative source.
- HSL not rising up to the expectation of taking on MR of 877EKM s/m.
- Serious repercussion from the sudden termination of the HDW s/m programme at MDL
- The perennial bureaucratic delays in operationalising the 30-year s/m building programme – which received CCS, go ahead in 1999.
- The unfortunate loss of INS Sindhurakshak on 14 August 2013.
Transfer of Technology
The HDW contract envisaged supply of two boats from Germany and two to be built under license at MDL in India. In addition, the contract included the commitment for ToT on s/m building to MDL and transfer of design “know how” and “know why” to the Design Bureau at NHQ. Accordingly, one composite group of MDL key technical personnel were sent to Kiel and Lubeck for acquiring the s/m building technology. At the same time, another group of multi-disciplinary design team was deputed to Professor Gabler’s Institution at Lubeck in order to acquire s/m design “know how” and “know why” skills.
Unfortunately, the HDW programme got entangled in a quagmire of alleged financial irregularities, scuttling the long term objective. In course of time, after the delivery of INS Shalki and INS Shantul in 1992 and 1994 respectively, all the skills acquired by MDL in the process of ToT became defunct and became unusable. As Vice Admiral Ganesh (the first CO of the nuclear s/m Chakra and later the DGATV) put it, “We attained the dubious distinction of being the first country in the world to voluntarily abandon the vital strategic capability of building s/m. Successive governments, thereafter, were unable to summon the strategic vision or political courage to resume the quest for an indigenous s/m and the s/m building industry lost two decades of development potential.” Fortunately, for the Indian Navy, this coincided with the emergence of the ATV programme and the Navy was at least able to salvage the HDW trained design team and redeploy them to a more challenging mission.
Long Term s/m Building Programme
The MOD’s 1997 proposal for a 30-year s/m building programme got CCS endorsement only in 1999. It consisted of a long term plan for indigenous construction of twenty-four s/m over a period of thirty years.
In 2002, Admiral Madhvender Singh, the incumbent CNS, is reported to have commended the recent decision of the government to go ahead with the 30 year s/m building plan. He further added that during the first ten years there will be licensed manufacture of s/m. Subsequently, it will be completely indigenous presumably meaning, indigenous design and production.
After prolonged delay – Project 75, the Scorpene deal was only finalised in 2002. Signing of the contract was still held hostage to the fear of allegations of corruption. Had it been signed in 2002, the first s/m would have been operational in 2009 and the sixth in 2015. Whereas, Kalvari, the first of the series, has only just commenced her sea trials and is expected to become operational by the end of this year.
The 30-year s/m building programme was originally proposed, in two phases. This was expected to be implemented in the period of 1999 to 2029. In the first phase, two s/m building yards were to be mobilised. For strategic considerations – one was proposed on the West coast and the other on the East coast. On the same grounds, it was also foreseen, that one would be sourced from those who practice a single hull design concept and the other following a double hull s/m design so that both the technologies are imbibed. This period of ten years was proposed to be utilised on JV basis to consolidate on ToT for building s/m production infrastructure and skills.
To achieve the strategic objective of operationalising the next phase of indigenous s/m design – it would have, by compulsion, become a necessity to ensure that this was to be integrally linked to, acquiring s/m design “know how” and “know why”, in the initial phase itself. On that basis, we should have been ready to take on indigenous design of a s/m latest by (1999 + 15yrs) 2014. Being the first conventional s/m design effort, validation by an experienced JV partner would necessarily have had to be incorporated in the original JV agreement itself.
As indicated earlier, towards that end, we had made a good beginning, by including ToT on s/m design, as part of the contract for HDW SSK S/M, in the 1980s. Though the basic design “know how” was acquired, the exercise could not be taken forward for reasons already explained.
In this context, we also failed to capitalise on the lead inherited from the HDW contract. It is understood that the short sighted bureaucrats, did not permit the Scorpene project to build on the HDW experience. As a result, even in 2016, we are still not capable of designing a conventional s/m, on our own.
To make up for lost time, it has become a strategic necessity to ensure that ToT on design “know how” and “know why” forms an integral part of the RFP for 75I JV Project. Validation of the indigenous design at the end should form a contractual obligation. It is considered that this would be our last opportunity to become self reliant in s/m design. On no account should we compromise on this issue. This is also, a take away point from the ATV experience which must be emulated here. There is an important lesson to be learnt from the way the ATV programme has managed to smoothly transit from the INS Arihant, which is basically a SSGN, to a fully fledged SSBN and take it forward to go to a SSN – under the umbrella of the same Agreement.
Project 75I, the second leg of the first phase of the thirty year plan, which got the AON seal in 2012, is still stuck at the RFP stage. Hopefully this time round, the acquisition of design “know how” and “know why”, will not be put on the back burner as it was done, in the case of the Scorpene programme. If not done now, we will miss the last boat to achieve our strategic objective.
Stiff competition is expected from reputed global s/m builders To exploit the full potential, of the new ‘Make in India’ policy, some of the overseas shipyards are even seriously contemplating offering JV partnership to greenfield Indian private shipyards.
There are signals emanating from the government now to indicate that they are charged with the dichotomy between the alarming issue of declining s/m force levels and the need to develop an indigenous design and build capability – which is also a strategic imperative. With that in mind, there are reports to suggest that, to offset the immediate drop in force levels – the government is initiating action to:
- Accelerate the MR process and extend the life of existing s/m – by offloading the remaining 877EKM s/m to Russia.
- Order additional modernised Scorpene from MDL.
The serious lacuna on the salvage domain was unmistakably illustrated by our inability to raise the sunken Sindhurakshak alongside a dockyard berth and the time it took to mobilise the means, from external source.
In the initial stages – INS Nistar provided limited rescue coverage from 1971 to 1989. On its decommissioning – INS Nireekshak, basically a diving support vessel, with some essential systems relocated from Nistar, was deployed in that role till end 1995 as an interim solution.
The arrangement finalised with the USN in 1997 for its global s/m rescue fly away kit – fell a victim to post Pokhran sanctions. That was revived in 2004 but is confined to emergency response in case of diesel s/m only. The periodic joint exercise to prove the system is an ongoing process.
EPRON a Prut class Russian s/m rescue vessel (SRV) was deployed to give SRV cover to Arihant during her deep dive trials.
The above clearly demonstrates the inescapable necessity for a captive Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel for the Navy.
DAC approval for acquisition of two DSRVs was accorded in December 2013. It is reported that the Agreement for a DSAR similar to the ones operational in Australia, Singapore and Korea has now been finalised and negotiations for the linked mother ship are in progress.
A Serious Organisational Impediment
Resorting to putting the entire s/m activity into a single monolithic silo is considered a retrogressive step. Even the induction of the nuclear s/m force – cannot justify such a step. The world over, modern Navies and the military are now being divided on functional basis – into operational, staff and life time support streams.
The Navy’s memory seems to be very short. In the early 1980s – a dedicated Directorate was created comprising of the best talents available at the time from the s/m cadre for handling the HDW s/ m project in its entirety. To recall the outcome – one only needs to visit the time when the first of the class arrived in Mumbai. The reaction of the Admiral Superintendent Mumbai DY was livid – bringing out the serious lacunae that result, in working in a silo. The serious mishaps / disasters last year, in respect of 877EKM boats, are yet another dimension to the same malaise. Yet another clear example is the Arihant project. Had the silo principle engulfed the ATV project – none of this would have been possible. Every one now wants to get on to the band wagon and demand to be the high priest at the high table. In this context a total overhaul of the mind set is called for.