It isn’t a flash in the pan but a firm surge.
After years of stagnation and being plagued by accidents, India Navy’s (IN) submarine arm seems set for an uptick. The most visible sign has emerged behind the tall gates guarding the premier submarine training establishment, the Visakhapatnam-based INS Satavahana. The navy is training what arguably is its biggest batch of submariners in recent years.
The school, which conducts the all-important basic course – an entry level, year-long course which every submariner has to undergo has seen the batch size nearly double. If the 84th batch, conducted in 2013 saw the participation of 26 officers and 129 sailors, the current one, 88th, is witnessing 45 officers and 176 sailors. In the interim batches, the intake grew to 33 for officers and 143 sailors, at the most. There are two batches in a year, since every batch spends six months on campus followed by an equal amount of time on board an operational submarine. Sailors are required to put in this bit while for officers, it takes six more months to achieve the dolphin badge – ultimate insignia for a submariner.
In the submarine arm – a voluntary one – this enhancement is being seen as a direct fallout of the perceived brighter prospects. Some also view this as a resurgence, an affirmation of sorts in the mitigating procedures put in place following the deadly accidents – explosion and sinking of INS Sindhurakshak in Mumbai in August 2013 killing 18 on board and fire on board INS Sindhuratna which took the lives of two officers on board in February 2014.
“Forty-five officers!” exclaimed retired submariner Commodore AJ Singh, “is a big number indeed”. In his understanding the navy has to train more given the number of bigger submarines lined up for induction. “There has never been a dearth but with this number the navy has created the institutional depth. There perhaps was a perception issue but it is history now,” Singh said.
Unlike other branches of the navy where specialisation is the key, submariners hold specialisation at par with generalisation. “The first test I had to pass was the one in which I was to all about a submarine’s structure. The passing percentage is 85,” said an officer.
The navy’s submarine arm, facing a massive crunch in the early 60s, is a well rewarded one. Allowances are at par with the other apex level arms – aviation and special forces. “And why not? Risks aside, ours is the only military service where on duty no one wears a uniform, not even a rank and for a reason,” quipped an officer.
IN fields a fleet on fourteen operational submarines which includes nine Russian-EKMs or Sindhughosh class, four German HDW Shishumar class and the nuclear-powered boat, INS Chakra, an Akula class submarine loaned from Russia. In the final leg of her sea trials is the Arihant, an indigenous nuclear-powered boat supposed to fire nuclear-tipped missiles.
The average age of the Indian submarine is a worrying 25 years. The submarine acquisition has floundered on account of the delay. However, if things go as planned, INS Kalvari, French-designed, conventional submarine which was to join the fleet in 2012 will do so in September 2016 with the remaining five coming at the interval of nine months each. On the anvil are at least two more boats of the Arihant-class, six conventional diesel electric submarines, six nuclear powered submarines and an additional Russian submarine on lease, the negotiations for which are continuing.
About INS Satavahana
It stands divided into three schools with submarine training, escape training and the school of advanced undersea warfare. While the first two are self explanatory, the third stands as an additional ground for those are to man nuclear-propelled submarines. “Camaraderie is our hallmark and here sailors and officers train and earn their dolphins together. Anyone who volunteers is allowed a look-in period of a month in which he can walk away if he desires with no penalties imposed,” said an officer.
Currently, the Satavahana is hosting its second batch of Vietnamese naval personnel, comprising 19 officers and 42 sailors. Like IN, the Vietnam People’s Navy has contracted Russia for six, diesel electric Varshavyanka submarines, also known as advanced ‘Kilo’ class ships an older version of which IN has. In the past, personnel from Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and South Africa have been allowed in.
· Sindhughosh class: 53
· Shishumar class: 40
· INS CHAKRA: 100
· Arihant class: 100
· Kalvari class: 72