All posts by Jugal R Purohit

Television journalist who also dabbles in the written word. Through this blog I wish to put out original content into the open source based on my findings and work. Subjects of this blog include conflict, travel, history and security. Hope it's worth your time! Contact: jugalrpurohit@gmail.com

WARGAME GAGANSHAKTI: What is the IAF saying?

By Jugal R Purohit

New Delhi

In the early hours of Saturday, April 14, a fully-armed Sukhoi 30 – the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) frontline fighter plane – roared as it took off from the Kalaikunda air force station in West Bengal.

The Russian-origin combat aircraft was soon above Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea before turning back to land at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Using mid-air refuelling, the Sukhoi, which can fly at a speed of 2500 kilometres per hour, demonstrated something any air force would give its right arm for – a reach of 4000km in a single flight.

But this did not happen in isolation.

Photo (3)
A Su30 undergoing mid-air refuelling during Gaganshakti 2018. Picture Courtesy: IAF

Consider this:

  • Between April 8 and 22, the IAF nearly shut all its training and pulled out nearly 1400 of its officers and 14,000 men for a wargame. Almost anyone fit to fly was directed to make themselves available.
  • In that period, nearly 1100 of its aircraft were specially deployed across the length and breadth of the country on ‘operational duty’.
  • So intense was the effort that fighter, transport aircraft, helicopters, Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) put together generated a staggering 11000 flights/sorties between them.

In conjunction with elements of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy, the IAF had mounted what many term as one of its biggest-ever exercise. They named it ‘Gaganshakti 2018’.

VIDEO: GAGANSHAKTI 2018 – IAF Presentation – http://indianairforce.nic.in/video-gallery/5

“If war were to happen tomorrow, we would like to be in a position where we can sustain a high tempo of operations. Gaganshakti 2018 was where we tested ourselves extensively and results were satisfying”, said an officer aware of the intricacies of the exercise.

While the exercise was initiated with a focus on India’s western borders, mid-way, the IAF re-positioned its forces on India’s eastern frontiers.

File Photo 1
IAF: In the mountainous terrain the movement of the troops from one valley to another is a challenging task. The redeployment of forces from one area of interest to another may at times take couple of days. Inter Valley Troop Transfer operations help to reposition the desired forces within a couple of hours. Picture Courtesy: IAF

The message was clear.

The IAF was publically practising for a two-front conflict.

Photo (2)
IAF: This assault included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS guided cargo platforms. The landing force was dropped behind the simulated enemy lines to soften up the likely resistance to our own armoured offensive. Picture Courtesy: IAF

But, there is more to the story.

World’s fourth largest air force, the IAF, is operating with 31 squadrons of fighter jets whereas it needs 45 squadrons.

Also, the IAF appears to be in deep financial trouble – from purchasing new equipment to maintaining the older one, the impact is pervasive.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by veteran BJP leader Major General BC Khanduri (Retired) tabled its forty first report in Lok Sabha on March 13, 2018 (http://164.100.47.193/lsscommittee/Defence/16_Defence_41.pdf):

  • (For 2018-19) Shortfall of Rs.6440 crore in the Revenue Budget is likely to impact the operational preparedness, ability to procure spares & fuel, apart from leaving gaps in training programs, serviceability of older systems and provision of basic amenities to the Air Force personnel.
  • …percentage share of Air Force budget has declined considerably during the last few years.
  • Allocations made under the capital head for the Air Force, which is largely accountable for modernization budget of the Service, has consistently plummeted. In the year 2007-08, it was to the tune of 17.51 per cent of the total defence budget and has gone down to 11.96 per cent in the year 2016-17.
  • …there appears to be a lack of sufficient sincerity towards capacity enhancement and modernization of the Air Force.
Khandu
Major General BC Khanduri (R) is a BJP MP and a former chief minister

The report also reveals how the IAF from 2016 onwards was made to pay over Rs 2500 crore in customs duty, an amount which was to be reimbursed to the service but never was. In fact, out of its meagre resources, the IAF is set to further shell out Rs 1726.98 crore towards custom duties in 2018-19 too!

Indeed in the coming years, some of the earlier inked deals like the one for French fighter Rafale and American helicopter Chinook are expected to fructify. However, these are fruits of what has been inked in the past.

Yet, by the end of the next decade, the IAF will be left with a paltry 19 squadrons says the same Parliamentary panel.

Xinhua
An undated file photo of the J-20 released by Chinese state media XINHUA with the claim that these stealth birds had been commissioned earlier this year

A decade is all that separates a rapidly-modernising Chinese air force from the IAF which, as of now enjoys the upper hand in a trans-Himalayan encounter of the type Gaganshakti 2018 envisaged says Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retired), a veteran helicopter pilot.

“Today, we have better equipment, better support fleet and much better aircrew training. However if we cannot generate a top class next generation fighter in house in the coming decade, then it is anyone’s guess where India’s advantage will be”, he added.

It took the IAF nearly nine months to plan out Gaganshakti 2018. A conflict, however limited, may not provide such a cushion. The IAF is also mindful that the day they square off with China, Pakistan may jump in too.

“We have a task at hand. What we don’t have are the best tools. When will they arrive, no one can tell”, explained an officer.

He added, “With Gaganshakti 2018, we exercised our Plan B”.

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Xi-Modi @ Wuhan: (Perhaps) We won’t know what happens but still there is a lot we do. My piece.

Even as the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ‘lay the groundwork for the Qingdao Summit’ to be held in June when the top leadership of SCO nations travel to China, in some ways, something very distinct has already occurred.

On Sunday, following discussions with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, China’s Foreign Minister and recently-appointed State Councilor Wang Yi declared that the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be holding an ‘informal meeting’ with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan as early as the next weekend.

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India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Wang Yi, her Chinese counterpart who is also now the State Councilor making him China’s foremost voice on foreign affairs. Pic courtesy: @IndianDiplomacy

“Xi and Modi will have strategic communication on the world’s profound changes, and exchange, in an in-depth manner, views on overall, long-term and strategic issues regarding China-India relations, Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese news agency Xinhua. (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-04/23/c_137129130.htm)

How should this be seen?

In the words of India’s recently-retired Foreign Secretary and long-time China hand S Jaishankar to news agency ANI, “It is certainly a very bold step. They will be meeting in a casual environment. The agenda will be open. This will be much more personal and interactive”.

For Sino-Indian ties, if 2017 was the year of friction, marked by the Doklam stand-off and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, 2018 has seen more than a mere reset.

New Delhi struck the right conciliatory notes with Beijing when it came to dealing with the constitutional crisis in Maldives and the ‘Thank You India’ initiative of the Central Tibetan Administration. On its part, Beijing did not stand with Pakistan in February when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) moved to squeeze Islamabad over its support to extremist groups.

Dust has also settled on two matters considered important for New Delhi but which saw a unilateral suspension from Beijing’s end –re-opening the Nathu La route for Mansarovar yatra and sharing hydrological data on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers.

Yet divergence remains.

For India, Beijing’s multi-faceted involvement with Islamabad remains the biggest red flag. Irritants like blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and increasing its foothold in the Indian Ocean region have remained unresolved.

Though trade between the two nations has increased exponentially, so has the trade deficit in favour of China.

Malab_2
Indian Naval Ship (stealth frigate) INS Shivalik steams past the US Carrier during the ongoing Exercise Malabar-2015. Pic courtesy: Indian Navy

China views India’s embrace of US, Japan and entities on its periphery with suspicion. India’s pro-active role whether in engaging with nations in the Indo-Pacific littoral or in the military build-up along the border has been entirely unprecedented.

Seen from Beijing, the neighbourhood isn’t exactly welcoming at present. It has enjoyed better ties with Japan, Vietnam and Australia  in the past.  In addition, there is a resurgent United States which is willing to call its bluff whether in the economic sphere or in the strategic one.

What now?

History offers an interesting even if not entirely relevant lesson.

The year was 1989. The month was June.

In the heart of the Chinese capital, the country’s military had been used against its citizens. Thereafter unfolded the trauma at Tiananmen Square.

Not too long after, China’s competitor communist nation the Soviet Union too vanished.

India wondered if the Chinese would be interested in settling the boundary dispute over which the nations fought a bitter war only three decades before.

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, a junior diplomat in 1992 told the then Foreign Secretary JN Dixit, ‘Fears (from the Tiananamen Square and Soviet Union’s collapse) should make the Chinese leadership willing to ensure peace along the border with India, freeing the Chinese government to deal with more pressing concerns’.

Turned out, the Chinese were receptive.

In his book, ‘Choices – Inside the making of India’s Foreign Policy’, Menon notes that by September of 1993, the first agreement of its kind on the border between India and China had been inked.

What is important to note however is this – China today has a President who has secured a mandate ‘for life’ whereas Modi, almost at the end of his term, has to seek one next year.

POSTSCRIPT: As Sushma Swaraj boarded the aircraft to take her to Beijing on April 21, investigating agencies confirmed the location of the wanted diamond merchant Nirav Modi – Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

THIS POST WAS PUBLISHED FIRST ON THE FOLLOWING SITES:

CONFLICT REPORTING: What role do we have in conflict and peace-building? Frankly, none. Notes from a recent talk.

It’s been twenty seven years since the world saw the first televised conflict in the form of US-led Operation Desert Storm against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

With that began the phase when governments utilised the power of the visual medium to ‘shock and awe’ the opposing side.

desrty storm
POST OP DESERT STORM: U.S. Army Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf, commander of U.S. Central Command, arrives by helicopter at a desert command to visit with U.S. and international troops during Operation Desert Shield, April 1, 1992. Courtesy: Department of Defense, US

Terrorists too picked up on it. 9/11 remains its biggest example.

What was common however was the fact that media houses remained the gatekeepers. Whether to air or not, how much to air and what not to – these were decisions journalists made.

Today, the gatekeeper is nearly jobless.

When not owning media, governments own social media feed.

Terrorists too drop a message on a chat app or upload a video on a video-sharing site. The job’s done. Who needs journalists any longer!

Good news or bad news?

Good, if you ask me.

We are no longer required to run after the authorities for bites, data, images and the like. Unless you prefer walking with your eyes closed, there are bigger issues to tackle, inconvenient truth to uncover, propaganda to defeat, fake news to bust and that old school reportage is always there for those who seek.

Next question – are we seeing this form of journalism around us, in India? In a hall full of aspiring media professionals and veterans, not a single person said yes.

These are some of the inconvenient truths I gathered from editors I’ve had the chance to work with:

  • Let us not take on/question our armed forces (it ostensibly lowers their morale)
  • Do not cover/talk to Maoist insurgents – they are terrorists
  • Stories of Maoist violence are not sexy enough there are massive casualties
  • Celebrate surgical strikes but don’t question why are matters slipping away so rapidly
maoist-guns
Maoist insurgents in central India have sustained their violent campaign against the state for over seven decades

Let me tell you something about the Maoists of India who’ve managed to create an insurgency that predates our independence. To recruit they rely on issues like mining, displacement, denuding of forests, police atrocities – how often and in what manner do we report on them?

Did anyone in the audience remember seeing an Indian news television report on the subjects mentioned above? No one was sure.

My next question to them was whether they’d seen a tribal affairs correspondent in any of the major news channels? Or if they’d seen reporters based out of conflict-ridden areas of Odisha, Chhattisgarh or north eastern states? Hardly anyone offered a word.

Conflicts are spells – sometimes long sometimes short. But if journalists look at covering them as an aberration then credibility is the price.

Last year, World Press Freedom ranked India 136th among 180 nations. To put things in perspective, between 2016 and 2017, India slipped three positions and moved closer to Pakistan (139). Our neighbours, Bhutan (84) and Nepal (100) are miles ahead.

By the way, this World Press Freedom report was prepared before the pre-meditated murder of Bengaluru-based journalist and proprietor Gauri Lankesh.

India has progressed when it comes to ease of obstructing journalists.

Any talk about doing journalism in these times in this country, of course, cannot be complete without reminding the reader what India’s premier anti-terror investigation agency, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) holds as the definition of journalism – covering developmental activity of any government department or inauguration of a hospital or a school or statement of any political party in power – this and more found its way into a charge sheet NIA filed before a court a few weeks ago (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/moral-duty-of-a-real-journalist-is-to-cover-govt-development-activity-nia-kamran-yusuf-arrest-5065841/)

Lastly, what role does the media have when it comes to reporting on conflict and peace-building?

Frankly, none.

So what should drive our coverage? Truth and public interest, to my mind.

Governments, parties in power and several institutions talk of media as their force multiplier. Is that justified?

Take for instance the case of American security contractor Edward Snowden. Championed world over for taking on the secretive National Security Agency which was collecting data on millions of innocent individuals, he is an offender when it comes to the USA. Syed Saleem Shehzad who exposed the grip that jihadists held on institutions of Pakistan military was hailed as a daring, investigative journalist. However, the intelligence agencies in Pakistan did not think so. They are accused of in fact having a hand in his killing.

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What Snowden did is seen differently, depending on which side of the divide you are

Media was seen as a force multiplier by those in the Bush administration who were trying to convince the American public about the merits of invading Iraq for Saddam’s connections with Al Qaida and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – both of which remain unproven to this day. Many journalists who did their bidding are even today busy apologizing for that.

Of course over 2,88,000 individuals who died a violent death in Iraq since the American invasion never got the chance.

(Notes from a lecture I delivered at GD Goenka University, Gurugram in March 2018)

CRPF SUKMA BLAST: Did not check the road for mines admits Chhattisgarh Police

Does the left hand know what the right is doing? Not always.

In a stunning revelation, it is now emerging that neither the local police nor the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – both tasked with countering the left-wing Maoist violence in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh – bothered checking the road for mines before allowing troops to ply on it leading to the carnage on March 13 where nine policemen were killed in an mine explosion.

Around noon on Tuesday, in the state’s Sukma district, men from 212 battalion of the CRPF were commuting from the Kistaram camp to the one at Palodi when their Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) was blasted by insurgents using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

Two more policemen who were in the same vehicle are currently being treated for the injuries they sustained.

While the CRPF maintained that the state police was tasked with clearing the road from all forms of threat on that ill-fated day, the state police said did not have the resources required for that task.

Sundarraj Patilingam, the Chhattisgarh Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) who looks at the violence-hit region said, “On that day, the state police undertook an area domination exercise (this involves occupying the dominating features along a route to secure a large area) between Kistaram and Palodi. It was a decision taken based on resources available before the officials on ground. In hindsight, we believe a more intensive de-mining and ROP (Road Opening Party is specifically tasked with minutely scanning the road to terminate threats like the IEDs) could have resulted in detection of the IED. Therefore the incident could have been averted”.

He added, “But ideal conditions don’t always exist and senior officials have to visit camps”.

For years now, Maoist rebels have used IEDs planted underneath the road surface to target security personnel. A thorough ROP is thus the only way to counter the threat.

Vehicular movements are generally avoided unless personnel actually conduct an ROP exercise and give the green light.

Warning was ignored 

Barely five hours before the mine blast, the Maoists fired upon personnel from the CRPF’s special unit, CoBRA (208th battalion) ahead of the Kistaram camp at about 7am.

“We’d hardly covered three kilometres on our way to Palodi, nearly 250 Maoist insurgents attacked us. We hit them back and they retreated,” said a policeman who was aware of the fight.

As a result of this, a pre-planned visit to the Kistaram and other camps by the Sukma Superintendent of Police and senior CRPF officer was cancelled.

Nevertheless, at around 9am, the SP, Abhishek Meena, landed in a helicopter at Kistaram, unaccompanied by the senior CRPF officer.

“Our 208 CoBRA had warned about the presence of large number of Maoists with sophisticated arms in the area. The Sukma Superintendent of Police (SP) went ahead with his pre-planned visit after assessing the situation. Our Commanding Officer sent the MPVs one of which got caught in the IED blast”, said the Director General of CRPF, RR Bhatnagar.

Asked if the SP Sukma should have paid heed to the caution advised by his force, Bhatnagar said, “There is no point in conducting these post mortems. We have to look ahead”.

When contacted, the Sukma SP Meena declined to comment.

ALSO READ – MY DEEP DIVE INTO MAOIST INSURGENCY AND WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018:

https://jugalthepurohit.wordpress.com/2018/01/06/maoist-menace-fewer-attacks-fewer-maoist-casualties-but-more-security-men-killed-this-and-more-that-the-govt-wont-tell-you/

Time ‘We The People’ return to the centre stage

Unlike every other Republic Day, this one brings with it a sense of gloom.

I say this for the friends, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters as well as grandparents who are no more amidst us. Their exits were forced and absolutely avoidable.

Am referring to the deaths in Mumbai’s Kamla Mills fire, Saki Naka eatery fire, the Elphinstone bridge stampede, the Bawana fire tragedy in Delhi, pollution catastrophe in the whole of north India and pothole accident deaths in Bengaluru and other cities and the list goes on.

What is common here?

A sign of obvious danger that was left unattended and it ended up consuming innocent lives.

In each of these instances, authorities reacted after the tragedy had run its course. They then pointed to flaws and regulations that were violated.

When justice is eventually done, there is little solace either for the victims or the society.

Tragedies mentioned above aren’t new. What worries me is that our response isn’t either.

On January 23, the apex court said the following: Human life does not seem to have great value. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/human-life-does-not-seem-to-have-great-value-sc-on-bawana-mumbai-fires-5035088/)

What can be done?

Everyone agrees that government machinery is inefficient. Some may even say it is understaffed and overworked. It is my belief that it can do with assistance from citizens.

Legislation which eases access and accountability between the governed and governing can work wonders. Making citizens their eyes and ears will go a long way in restoring harmony.

Remember what the government did in the aftermath of 26/11 tragedy? Mindful of the fact that the navy, the coast guard and police can’t monitor every inch of the ocean they co-opted the local fishermen. Few would know that this exercise has been practiced and refined to an extent that fishermen by the pressing of a button now can alert that authorities to anything they find amiss.

Coming back, can’t we harness the likes of WhatsApp or other digital tools in alerting and expecting response from the authorities? A damaged bridge, an open manhole, a street lacking street lights, a restaurant flouting rules and the like.

Regrettably, legislation that empowers citizens and holds the system to account like Lokpal, Citizen’s charter etc lie wasted.

Founding fathers of the republic did not envisage the Republic Day parade. They also did not envisage it as a day to make grand diplomatic statements like it seems to have become the norm of late.

They envisaged a republic dedicated to ‘We The People’.

It is time we, the citizens, force ourselves at the centre of the discourse.

(Featured image courtesy: The Quint)

MAOIST MENACE: Fewer attacks, fewer Maoist casualties but MORE SECURITY MEN killed. This and more that the govt won’t tell you.

Few paid attention to Ginugu Narsimha Reddy alias Jampanna (55) when he began as a technician in Hyderabad. But in the last week of December 2017, when he returned to the city with his 37-year-old wife Hinge Anitha, taking note was a posse of beaming Telangana policemen and excited journalists. Reddy, after all, had lived his life as a celebrated operative of the outlawed Communist Party of India (CPI) (Maoist). Joining the group in 1984, he started as a dalam commander and grew to the coveted position as a member of the apex, decision-making body, the Central Committee (CC).

2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) saw the decline in instances and intensity of Maoist violence. Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh pointed out “overall reduction of 21% in violence incidents over corresponding period of last year”.

But that is just one side.

While the attacks on security personnel may have reduced, Maoists have been able to carry out more intense attacks leading to increased casualties for security forces. At the same time they have been able to reduce their own casualties. Data accessed using the Right To Information (RTI) Act 2005:

Instances of security forces being attacked by Maoists

·         2016 – 111

·         2017 – 73

Killing of security force personnel by Maoists

·         2016 – 65

·         2017 – 72

Killing of Maoists by security forces

·         2016 – 222

·         2017 – 109

Surrenders by Maoist cadre

·         2014 – 623

·         2015 – 565

·         2016 – 1420 (1190 from Chhattisgarh alone)

·         2017 – 666 (till December 15, 2017)

Yet, as this report in THE HINDU (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/chhattisgarhs-fake-maoist-surrenders/article20547957.ece) claims, nearly 90 per cent of the surrenders  out of Chhattisgarh last year were fake.

Violence involving Maoists

·         2014 – 1091

·         2015 – 1089

·         2016 – 1048

·         2017 (till Nov 30, 2017) – 813

In this period, Maoists killed more than 212 security personnel and 616 civilians.

The Maoist movement was born before India became independent and it has survived by choosing when and where to fight. So it is hardly a surprise when the MHA notes that the Maoist have made efforts in “Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border areas, establishment of a base at the tri-junction of Kerala-Karnataka-Tamil Nadu and formation of a new Zone at the tri-junction of Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh”.

In trouble-prone areas, police is often the first and only significant arm of the administration. Yet instead of achieving the ideal average ratio of one policeman for every 547 citizens, India continues to field one policeman for every 720 citizens.

On ground, most admit that while Maoists can still pull a surprise, there exists better domination and coordination between various governmental agencies. “Instead of camping in villages and seeking food from the locals, Maoists are now camping in jungles and through emissaries are arranging their food since they fear locals will alert us,” said an officer posted in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district. In Odisha, “Barring the Malkangiri-Nuapada belt, they are nowhere”, said another officer.

Another theme emerging from the ground is the militarisation of Maoist insurgency. “Earlier their People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) was a significant component of the Maoist organisation, now increasingly it is becoming the only component. This works well for us as we are able to win over the people with sops and facilities,” said a source. In contrast, in addition to ramping up security, the government is avowedly constructing roads, mobile towers, schools, skill development centres, post offices, banks and ATMs to present its humane face.

The aging leadership and the lack of an effective second-rung in the CPI Maoist are bright spots when seen from the government’s viewpoint. Sources point to Jampanna and many before him to say, “several senior Maoist leaders are in touch with their families and through them with the police in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We can expect big surrenders in 2018”. “The average age of their leadership is beyond 55 now. These people began in their 30s and 40s. Health is increasingly a concern for them. If you look at the Maoist hierarchy, they have no next generation to takeover”, said K Durga Prasad, former Direcor General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer with rich experience in tackling the Maoist menace agreed.

So what should the approach be in 2018?

“The government should consciously work to prevent another lease of life to the Maoists. Fake surrenders, fake encounters, death of civilians by security personnel, or large-scale displacement of people is what helps Maoists expand their reach. We have to be careful,” said a source.

India’s record on this front is far from inspiring. In his book, ‘Blood Red River’, Rohit Prasad quotes from a study on displacement of native population in India. In it, he states how between 1947-2000, nearly 60 million were displaced – of which only 1/3rd have been rehabilitated. Among the displaced, nearly 40 per cent are tribals.

General election of 2019 aside, states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand which are at the heart of the Maoist insurgency are barely 24 months away from local elections. As a result, in addition to security-related efforts, political and developmental activities too are picking up pace.

In the battle for the heart of India, 2018 is not just another year.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED AT THE DAILYO PORTAL: https://www.dailyo.in/politics/maoists-left-wing-extremists-india-naxal-surrender-tribals/story/1/21498.html

What goes down need not necessarily come up. RIP San Juan: Vice Adm KN Sushil (R)

KN SUSHIL
Vice Admiral KN Sushil retired from the navy in May 2012, after nearly 40 years of service. The Admiral is a doyen submariner and was among the pioneers who inducted the modern Shishumar Class submarines in the Navy. The Admiral as the first Inspector General Nuclear Safety of Indian Navy, had laid the ground work for induction of advanced nuclear submarines like INS Chakra

BY VICE ADMIRAL KN SUSHIL (Retd)

The ARA San Juan disappeared a few hundred kilometers off Argentina’s coast on November 15, and despite an extensive air and sea search no sign of the sub has been found. Eight days after the sub vanished, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organisation said that it had detected hydro-acoustic anomaly” about 30 nautical miles (60km) north of the sub’s last-known position at 10:31 (13:31 GMT) few hours after the sub’s last contact. The analysis of the acoustic incident was reported as follows.

The acoustic signal associated with the loss of the Argentina Submarine ARA SANJUAN confirms the following:

That acoustic signal originated near 46-10S, 59-42W at 1358Z (GMT) on 15 November 2017. It was produced by the collapse (implosion) of the ARA SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a depth of 1275-feet. Sea pressure at the collapse depth was 570 PSI. The frequency of the collapse event signal (bubble-pulse) was about 4.4Hz. The energy released by the collapse was equal to the explosion of 12,500 pounds of TNT at the depth of 1275-feet. That energy was produced by the nearly instantaneous conversion of potential energy (sea-pressure) to kinetic energy, the motion of the intruding water-ram which entered the SAN JUAN pressure-hull at a speed of about 1800 mph.
The entire pressure-hull was completely destroyed (fragmented/compacted) in about 40 milliseconds (0.040s or 1/25th of a second), the duration of the compression phase of the collapse event which is half the minimum time required for cognitive recognition of an event. Although the crew may have known collapse was imminent, they never knew it was occurring. They did not drown or experience pain. Death was instantaneous.
The SAN JUAN wreckage sank vertically at an estimated speed between 10 and 13 knots. Bottom impact would not have produced an acoustic event detectable at long range
         

The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities. Therefore, having commanded two type 1500s I will venture to hazard a guess on what could have afflicted the submarine.

SAN JUAN1
The ARA San Juan was an IKL(German) designed type 1700 submarine built by TKMS in their Essen yard in 1985 at about the same time the Indian type 1500 was being built at HDW(Kiel). Both the submarines have great deal of similarities.

Facts as gleaned from various reports.

15 Nov 0030Hrs. Submarine surfaced to report Water ingress through snort system causing a short circuit in the forward battery group. The forward battery group was isolated. The submarine charged her batteries on surface

At 0600 The message is transmitted through normal communication channels.

At 0730 the Captain informs base that he intend to continue his passage dived (Presumably because the sea was rough) At 1031, according to the CTBT report the submarine imploded at a depth of 1275 ft.

From the above it would appear that the submarine was snorting before she surfaced at 0030hrs. If there was water ingress through the snort mast that caused a short in the forward battery group then the submarine was unable to maintain snorting depth, because the sea may have been too rough and the “head valve” (that prevents water from coming into the mast, when the mast dips even momentarily) was not functioning. As part of the SOP the snort induction drain, which drains into the bilges is kept open for the duration of the snort.  In any case during the snorting, the diesel engines are used to create the suction that draws all the foul air from all over the submarine. The fresh air coming from the snort mast merely spreads to fill the vacuum. Therefore flooding through the snort system would normally have no effect on the battery groups.

The submarine remained on surface for seven hours post an incident of fire and smoke, which was attributed to short circuiting of the forward battery group. The crew, it seems, did not see any fire but managed to clear the smoke after isolating the forward battery group.

A fire in a battery group is one of the most dreaded emergencies on board any submarine. Therefore the damage control actions and subsequent analysis would have been painstakingly thorough. If there was a fire in the battery pits the firefighting system would have been activated (manually or automatically). Once the system is activated the battery pits are to be kept in a sealed condition for at least one hour. Thereafter the pit is ventilated for at least an hour before inspecting it. In these types of submarines one has to lie down on a trolley and manoeuvre manually over the batteries. If the sea is rough it becomes extremely difficult and dangerous.  It may therefore be possible that they may have dispensed with the inspection whilst on surface.

In the seven hours on surface the crew must have thoroughly examined the power distribution network and come to the conclusion that the problem was contained, and the submarine was reasonably safe to continue dived with a single battery group. They may even have considered that it would be safer and easier to inspect the battery pit while the submarine is underwater.

SAN JUAN3
ARA SAN JUAN disappeared while on its way to the naval base in Mar Del Plata, in the early hours of November 15

The submarine dived at 0730 hrs. After 3 hours it appears to have imploded at a depth of 388 Meters. 388 Meters is of course below the normal operating depth but well above the crushing depth. If the submarine did indeed implode at that depth the inescapable inference is that there were severe structural problems that had weakened the pressure hull. The Argentinean Navy must have known if any structural limitations were reported or imposed.

If the structural problems were not severe enough then some event that occurred in the 3 hours she was submerged must have been responsible. That event was so catastrophic that the submarine was unable to prevent an uncontrolled descent. Given the background situation the captain would have ordered the submarine to dive to 50 Meters. As soon as he settled down to that depth, he would have ordered the inspection of the battery pit. Unless there are clear tell tale signs, it is possible to miss some things which may have the potential to cause damage. Anyhow the inference and action post this inspection is not known. Did they reconnect the forward group? We will never know. The inspection would have taken about 45 minutes to an hour. The fact that they did not surface immediately after the inspection indicates that they did not notice anything alarming.

In the three hours that the submarine was under water, if there had been a gradual flooding, the crew would have taken action to mitigate the effects, and would have ample reaction time to surface. Therefore loss of control must have been triggered by a sudden event. A pressure hull breech and flooding that must have cause to rapidly lose depth. The most immediate response is to use speed to create dynamic vectors to aid depth control. Since the submarine had only one battery group connected the speed of the submarine would be restricted to about 8 Knots ahead and about 4 Knots astern.  This would not be sufficient to delay the descent so that de-ballasting and pumping out capacities can effectively annul or reduce the rate of flooding. The rate of flooding keeps on increasing with depth.

Now we have a situation where the submarine with the forward (or all) ballast tank probably blown going down. At depths greater than 180 meters the effect of blowing ballast with High Pressure air (250Bar)is painstakingly slow. The next stage is when the submarine crosses 15 meters more than the operational depth the Hydrazine emergency de-ballasting system will be triggered. This system is designed to clear the forward and aft main ballast tanks in 12 seconds at any depth. The problem would be if the Ballast tanks already contain air the Hydrazine will cause an explosion in the ballast tanks. If that happens there is nothing left to create positive buoyancy.

The Next question is why did the submarine implode at 388 meters? As brought out earlier it clearly points to structural weakness in the pressure. If such a situation did not pre-exist then it may be possible that the battery pit event may have cause massive spillage of acid into the pit causing the pit to corrode in the almost 10 hours this corrosion may have weakened the hull sufficiently to cause a substantial breech in the pressure hull. The flooding of the pits could an explosion as the water level reaches to short the terminal connectors.  This is only a conjecture.

San Juan went down without a trace. The crew did not even have the time or opportunity to release the systems and tell tale indicators that were meant tell the outside world that the submarine is in distress.

It is said what goes up must come down. Submariners know that what goes down need not necessarily come up. San Juan RIP.

In the language of the submarine community San Juan is on eternal patrol.