Twenty four officers and sailors from the navy are now training on the world’s most advanced rescue submarines in Scotland with systems that India has sought for decades – state-of-the-art technology and equipment that can be used to save sailors trapped underwater in submarine catastrophes.
Last year, the government signed a 1,900-crore deal with a British firm for the supply of two complete submarine rescue systems and navy personnel have now begun training on the system in Fort William, Scotland before they are delivered to India next year. The submarine rescue kits which include two Deep Search and Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) or mini-submarines will be positioned in Mumbai and Visakhapatnam where the Indian Navy bases its 14 conventional and 2 nuclear powered submarines.
So far, the navy has relied on a 1997 contract with the US for help in case an Indian submarine has an accident underwater. In the event of such a crisis, the US Navy would fly out its own DSRVs on massive transport aircraft before they are transferred to a ship which would need to sail out to the site of the submarine accident, a time-consuming affair that could cost lives. Now, with its dedicated kit, the Indian Navy will be self-reliant and able to quickly deploy its submarine rescue systems on board ships or fly them out on the Indian Air Force’s own C-17 heavy transport jets. According to James Fisher, the manufacturer of the UK submarines that India is buying, “The innovative design and tightly integrated components [of the system being sold to India] will ensure Time-to-First-Rescue – the time measured between deployment of the system and commencement of the rescue itself – is minimised. The systems are heavily optimised for ease of transport and speed of mobilisation to a Vessel of Opportunity.”
The two rescue submarines are designed to dock with the hatches of a submarine in distress at depths upto 650 metres, more than three times the operating depth of the rudimentary rescue “bells” which are containers that can be lowered to the submarine in distress and which the navy can operate from its diving support ship, the INS Nireekshak. This ship was originally meant for offshore oil exploration work but was commissioned in 1989 by the cash-strapped navy for SOS operations.
Each “bell” can rescue only a handful of sailors in each rescue attempt. The new rescue submarines being acquired by the navy function independent of the mothership, can locate and engage in a rescue mission more effectively, and rescue a greater number of sailors in each operation.
In August 2013, the INS Sindhurakshak, a Russian built “Kilo” class submarine, sank at the Naval dockyard after an explosion on-board in which 18 sailors were killed. In February 2014, a pair of Lt. Commanders of the Indian Navy were killed after smoke engulfed a compartment of another Indian Navy “Kilo” class submarine, the INS Sindhuratna, during a training mission off the coast of Mumbai. This prompted the then Navy Chief Admiral DK Joshi to resign while taking responsibility for other accidents in the navy during his watch.