This frame grab taken from video footage provided by Indian broadcaster NWS early Aug. 14 shows a fire at the Indian Naval Dockyard in Mumbai. A diesel-powered Indian submarine exploded and sank there, leaving 18 sailors missing and the navy counting the cost of a major setback in its ambitious modernization program. (NWS via AFP)
NEW DELHI — In a major setback to the Indian Navy’s already depleted submarine strength, a Russian-made kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, caught fire at the naval dockyard in Mumbai at midnight Aug. 13 and partially sank, with all 18 crew members declared dead.
Another kilo-class sub, INS Sindhuratna, also was damaged in the fire.
INS Sindhurakshak was prepared for patrol at the time of the fire and was fully loaded with weapons, including torpedoes and cruise missiles, said Navy sources.
Navy officials said the submarine caught fire following explosions but the cause of the explosion is not known. A Defence Ministry source said it seems standard operating procedures may not have been followed. A board of inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the fire.
The Navy source said the submarine has been badly damaged and is likely lost.
In 2010, there were explosions in the same submarine when it was docked at Visakhapatnam, killing one crew member. An investigation cited a faulty battery valve that leaked hydrogen. The submarine sailed to Russia for refit.
In 2008, another Russian-made kilo-class sub, INS Sindhugosh, collided with a merchant vessel off Mumbai while participating in a naval exercise.
The damage to Sindhurakshak and the second submarine docked alongside has left the Navy with only 11 operational subs.
With decommissionings planned in coming years of aging German HDW-class submarines, the Navy’s submarine fleet could fall to as few as seven, the Navy source added.
The Navy operated 21 submarines in the 1980s. Today, the Chinese sub fleet exceeds 60 vessels and is a point of major concern to the Indian Navy, said an Indian Navy official.
Meanwhile, French-made Scorpene submarines that will be license-produced at Mazagon Docks are nearly 36 months behind schedule and the MoD has yet to float a global tender for the purchase of six conventional submarines with air independent propulsion technology. This project was cleared in late 2010 but no decision has been made whether private sector shipyards will be allowed to participate in the $12 billion tender.
Prior to the Sindhurakshak fire, only 50 percent of the 10 kilo-class submarines in the fleet were fully operational, added the Navy official.
The 2010 Sindhurakshak upgrade involved a complete overhaul of the submarine, including the hull structures, as well as improved control systems, sonar, electronic warfare systems, and an integrated weapon control system and installation of Klub missiles.
Indian Navy dockyards do not have adequate repair facilities for submarines, and major refits of kilo subs have to be done in Russia. The poor repair facilities even hamper day-to-day repairs, said the Navy source.