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Indian Naval Incidents Spur Calls To Boost Private Industry's Role in Defense

Mar. 15, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
Submarine Fatality: Indian Navy officials carry the coffin of Lt. Cmdr. Manoranjan Kumar, who was killed in a February fire on board the submarine Sindhuratna.
Submarine Fatality: Indian Navy officials carry the coffin of Lt. Cmdr. Manoranjan Kumar, who was killed in a February fire on board the submarine Sindhuratna. (Agence France-Presse)
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NEW DELHI — Even as Indian authorities claim a fatal March 8 incident at a submarine-building facility was “an industrial accident,” a Navy source said the facility lacked clear administrative lines of command that contributed to poor monitoring of work performed there.

Some observers also have called for more private industry involvement in defense production.

The incident follows a string of Navy mishaps including the killing of all 18 crew after a fire on the submarine Sindhurakshak last August, the February death of two officers in a fire aboard the submarine Sindhuratna and the March 7 death of an officer following a gas leak aboard the destroyer Kolkata while docked.

Some analysts have said the incidents show it is time to directly involve private-sector defense firms in weapon production to loosen the grip of government-owned companies.

“The approach at defense production facilities can be called careless, and it is time private sector companies are directly involved in production of weapons and equipment so that the monopoly of state-owned companies, which is bogged with bureaucracy, is broken,” said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst here.

This sentiment was echoed by a Navy official, who did not wish to be named.

An employee of private company Larsen & Toubro was killed when the lid of a pressure tank to be installed on an Arihant- class follow up nuclear sub, codenamed S-3, blew off at the facility in Visakhapatnam, which is operated by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

A Defence Ministry statement said, “The accident is in no way related with any nuclear related activity. The submarines are safe, and the accident does not adversely affect the project activities or the activities of the Indian Navy or the Defence Research and Development Organisation.”

DRDO Director General Avinash Chander said the mishap was an “industrial accident.” Talking to reporters March 10 in Chennai, Chander said, “What happened at Visakhapatnam has nothing to do with the Navy. It was an industrial accident.”

No DRDO official would elaborate what Chander meant by “industrial accident.”

The Navy source, however, said, “Had a similar accident occurred at any private sector shipbuilding facility, then the blame would have been put squarely on the private company — implying DRDO should own up responsibility for the accident, as it involves the nuclear submarine.”

When asked about the bureaucratic structure at the facility, a DRDO official said the administrative control lies with the Department of Research in the Ministry of Defence, which is also headed by Chander, who is scientific adviser to the defense minister.

An MoD official denied any confusion in the lines of administrative authority at the facility, adding that the project, named Akansha, is being executed by DRDO.

However, an MoD source said the prime minister’s office is in charge of the submarine-building project.

DRDO’s nuclear submarine-shipbuilding facility at Vishakapatnam was set up 10 years ago and has about 500 personnel there while the Navy has another 500.

While the Navy is in charge of operational matters, DRDO is the integrator of the systems acquired from private sources and its laboratories. ■


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