The fire aboard the diesel submarine INS Sindhurakshak — believed to have killed 18 Indian sailors — has exposed what could be the Indian Navy’s largest weakness, said Eric Wertheim, author of Naval Institute’s Guide to Combat Fleets of the World.
“While India’s surface and aviation fleets have flourished in recent years, India’s submarine capability is still far short of where its navy had hoped it would be,” Wertheim told USNI News on Wednesday.
“We still don’t know the cause of the explosion, but it was only three years since a previous fire onboard Sindhurakshak , and in late 2008 India’s sole Russian-built Akula-class nuclear attack boat, Chakra was undergoing trials with a Russian crew prior to turnover when equipment malfunctions caused the death of some 20 Russians who had been preparing the boat for transfer to India.”
India has undertaken an aggressive naval expansion plan thought by many analysts to be a hedge against an ever-expanding Chinese naval ambition.
“Ensuring a safe and effective submarine fleet will be the key to ensuring that their underwater capabilities will be on par with the increasingly powerful naval aviation and surface fleet capabilities,” Wertheim said.
The Tuesday fire came only days after the successful launch of India’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.
The submarine force has not been as fortunate.
“Though current plans call for modernization through the acquisition of new Scorpène class attack submarines and a fleet of nuclear powered boats, both of these programs face continued delays and are likely years away from full operational service,” Wertheim said.
“As a result, the Indian Kilo-class, including the Sindhurakshak, had been expected to hold the line until the more modern submarines could be delivered. The Indian Kilos had, in fact, been undergoing major overhauls in Russia to ensure their continued usefulness.”
India has domestically built nuclear a ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant. The boomer — commissioned last year — is armed with 12 Sagarika submarine-launched ballistic missile with nuclear warheads. The missiles are capable of a range of 435 miles.