If the hostile entry of United States Navy 7th fleet in the crucial stage of the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh sent a shiver down the spine of Indian military commanders, events of last month gave them some relief. Not surprisingly there is a spring in the stride of those from India’s beleaguered submarine arm at the Vishakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command (ENC). “It is among the coolest things to happen in recent times,” said a young officer.
An operation under the high profile naval exercise MALABAR, between the navies of India, USA and Japan, featured a simulated battle to hunt and destroy each other’s submarines. Locked in this match were two prowlers, the INS Sindhudhvaj (S56), a Soviet-designed EKM class of conventional submarine and the USS City of Corpus Christi (SSN705), a nuclear-powered attack submarine which functions like a fighter plane – scramble and destroy enemy submarines and ships. The crew of both the vessels were asked to hunt the other down in a general area of the Bay of Bengal, based on ‘available int’. They, subsequently dived.
Hours later, as they still searched the Americans were informed that the game was over already.
Unknown, they had been marked, tailed and suitably ‘annihilated’ by the 533mm torpedos ‘fired’ by their Indian counterparts from on board the INS Sindhudhvaj. What came as a clincher to the Indian side was the tool which detected the USS Corpus Christi – the ‘made in India’ Ushus SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) which was recently installed. “The way it happens is that the Sindhudhvaj recorded the Hydrophonic Effect (HE) – simply put, underwater noise – of the nuclear powered submarine and managed to positively identify it before locking on to it. Being an exercise what did not happen was the firing,” explained a naval officer. The HE thus captured can easily slide into the elaborate database that the any navy maintains for classifying and identifying foreign submarines. A US embassy spokesperson said, “We have no information on the results to share.”
What will lend succour to the navy’s submarine fleet is yet another validation of the kill potential of its premier platform. India has nine such submarines apart from four German-designed Shishumar class submarines. After years of disallowing its presence in any naval exercise involving foreign navies – attributed to the IN’s desire to not its HE be recorded by a foreign player – this edition of MALABAR was the first time the Indian Navy (IN) allowed an EKM to take part.
Scoring over a US submarine also underscores the reputation that precedes an EKM submarine. Not without reason do the western navies term them ‘black holes in the ocean’ – a measure of how difficult it is to detect once submerged.
The six-day MALABAR exercise began on October 14 and saw the sea-going phase begin from October 16. Underwater warfare was among the most important aspects of this exercise. India allowing the participation of INS Sindhudhvaj can be linked with the fact that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has a much bigger fleet of EKM submarines, 12 in all, which it purchased from Russia from 1990. The PLA Navy’s rising profile has seen it becoming the biggest maritime power in Asia with over 300 assets which includes a menacing underwater fleet of 62 submarines. The PLA Navy has also initiated the deployment of its submarines, in addition to its surface ships, in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) – a region far removed from China’s traditional area of maritime interest which would include the Taiwan Strait, East China Sea and South China Sea, apart from the Pacific Ocean.
Veteran submariner, Vice Admiral KN Sushil (retd), said, “I would have been upset had we failed at achieving what we did. A nuclear powered submarine always makes more noise vis a vis a conventional one and thus the results do not surprise me.”
- INS Sindhudhvaj, is a conventional diesel electric submarine and was commissioned into the Indian Navy in June 1987. Her present home is the Vishakhapatnam based Eastern Naval Command.
- USS City of Corpus Christi is a Los Angeles class, nuclear powered attack submarine and was commissioned in the US Navy in January 1983. Her present home is Pearl Harbour.
MALABAR 2015 saw the participation:
- IN – Stealth frigate INS Shivalik, guided missile destroyer INS Ranvijay, frigate INS Betwa & INS Shakti, fleet support ship.
- US Navy – Aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, Cruiser USS Normandy, Littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, USS City of Corpus Christi, F18 fighter and Poseidon 8A maritime reconnaissance aircraft
- Japan Maritime Self Defense Force – Destroyer JS Fuyuzuki and SH60K integral helicopter.