New Delhi: After going through a massive refit and modernization phase over a period of nine years, Indian Navy’s submarine INS Sindhukriti has joined he fleet at a time when the navy is fighting a dwindling strength and is able to place only 8 to 9 submarines at a given time.
the INS Sindhukirti, based out of Eastern Naval Command’s Headquarters at Vishakhapatnam has come to the navy at a desperate time.
‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’ the control room erupted.
It was a ‘Hammer’ from which there was no escape but one – to plunge further. Covered in red light, 9m below the Bay of Bengal’s saline surface, crew on board Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sindhukirti (S61), a Soviet-designed, diesel-electric, EKM class submarine, had picked up an aircraft immediately above. “It is the worst nightmare for a submarine. Not only do we have nothing to attack it with but even if it doesn’t hit us directly, the aircraft will report our position to all ships in the region and send a huge flotilla towards us,” explained a young officer.
Fortunately, it was an exercise.
Having completed all her system-related trials following a medium refit (a first in an Indian shipyard) which lasted over nine years instead of the three-year period initially promised, the INS Sindhukirti, based out of Eastern Naval Command’s Headquarters at Vishakhapatnam has come to the navy at a desperate time.
Notwithstanding a stipulated minimum strength of 24 submarines, the navy fields a paltry set of 14 (excluding INS Arihant which is undergoing sea trials) of which only 8-9 are available at all times. What’s worse is that in the last decade and a half, not one submarine has been commissioned barring the INS Chakra which is on loan from Russia. The impact of this – the youngest submarine of the navy today is over 15 years old.
However, inside the double-hull stealth submarine, its 53-member crew sported a confident look. “She is as good as any new, trust me,” assured a young officer. The Sindhukirti was commissioned into the Indian Navy on January 4, 1990. Today, she boasts of capabilities she’s never had. Where she could earlier fire only underwater torpedos with a range of under 20km, today she can fire about 18 missiles which can travel up to 300km to neutralise targets at sea and on shore. An old Soviet-designed sonar has given way to an indigenous one, the Ushus whose reliability the crew swears by. From analog readings in her control room, the crew gleans data off digital sets. Earlier, after having dived in, the submarine had to come to periscope depth (9m below the surface) to pick up direction or messages from the command centres ashore. This would put them in a vulnerable state. Now, all she has to do is to let out the 600m long chord of the Towed Wired Antenna (TWA) and receive communication as she prowls the depths of her choice.
Life inside a submarine is difficult. From conditions leading to a cramped existence to nil exposure to the cycle of day and night to prohibition on bathing and shaving, the list can go on. However, it offers camaraderie of a kind which remains unparalleled. Commanding Officer Commander Vikas Gautam explained, “No one wears their ranks once sailing. Our training tells you that if there were to be problem in your compartment (Sindhukirti like other EKM class submarines has six in all), you’ll be required to lock yourself up and not run. People do that because they know that if they flee, there is every chance the problem also will get carried to other compartments. In addition, they know their buddy will pull them out anyhow.”
Meanwhile, in compartment three, Electrical Sailor Lokendra, is preparing for what he does twice a day – slide into the battery pit at the bottom of INS Sindhukirti, lie flat on a trolley and roll along over the 240 batteries across two chambers which aren’t even 2 feet in height. These batteries power the submarine. They also require the submarine to surface every 18-odd hours to charge them. His is a special yet risky task. If the batteries are fine, then he’ll emerge and prepare for his next dive, if not, the submarine’s mission and his life, may both be in jeopardy. Today has gone fine and Lokendra has made it in time for a special gesture by Chief Cook Beekesh Kumar who with two of his assistants has dished out hot kheerfor the entire complement. Pointing at a tiny compartment where two people can barely stand, Kumar said, “We cook for all the crew from here. Diet is normal. When we sail out, we carry full provision for 45 days.”
Dolphiners, as submarine personnel are referred to, consist of volunteers only. In their training, the first month is open for them to walk away. If they do make it, better prospects of pay and pride await. The special allowance these personnel draw is in the same league as that offered to special forces personnel from the army, navy and air force. Unlike in a ship where specialists man each section, the first thing that a submariner has to learn is everything. “Unless you pass the test in the first month of your year-long training which evaluates your knowledge about all aspects of the submarine, you can’t proceed. The passing percentage is 85,” revealed a young officer.
The day’s has ended inside the Naval Dockyard inside Vishakhapatnam. Most crew members pack and leave. “She can’t be locked and left even inside the harbour. It is my duty to stay on board today,” said Sailor Digvijay.
As we exit upwards from the torpedo deck, a shiny plate drew our attention.
“Some ships are designed to sink, rest require Sindhukirti’s assistance”.
Source: Defence News