Category Archives: indian navy

#SANJUANSUBMARINE: Its disappearance should ring alarm bells in India. My explainer.

Argentina is in grief and the world is anxious. Days have passed and leads on the disappearance of submarine ARA San Juan and its 44-member crew have turned cold. The Argentine Navy said there was an explosion near the last known location of the submarine.

In brief, here is what happened:

Midway through its journey from the naval base in Ushuaia to the one in Mar del Plata, on November 15, the ARA San Juan surfaced and reported a short-circuit in the batteries of the submarine. That was resolved. At 7.30am, the submarine stated it would submerge and reach Mar del Plata. Nothing was heard from the boat thereafter.

Watching these developments is the small community of Indian submariners. As one of the largest navies operating 15 submarines most of which are nearing or past their shelf lives, the concern is genuine. There is one more reason.

“Our Shishumar-class of submarines (Type 1500) is similar to the missing Argentinean sub in design and equipment fit (ARA San Juan is a German-designed Type 1700 submarine built in 1983 in erstwhile West Germany),” said vice admiral KN Sushil, a veteran submariner, who retired as the head of the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command.

Subsurface, like space, is where nature did not envisage human presence. Thus submariners leave nothing to chance.

To start with, the underwater arm is a volunteers-only affair and “earning your Dolphins” is as challenging a task as it can get. While in other arms of the service as well as in other services, an individual is expected to be the master of his/her domain, the underwater arm requires an individual to master all domains.

The most important part of their training is how to escape, should the worst happen and the boat is rendered dysfunctional. Proof of how intense and treacherous the exercise is lies in the fact that the Indian Navy provides every trainee with a trainer.

WATCH: Short film on the Indian Navy’s Escape Training School in Vizag

Depending on the depth, personnel are imparted the skill to self-evacuate using tubes meant to fire torpedoes.

Caution goes beyond training.

WATCH: My comprehensive documentary on the INDIAN NAVY’s EKM-class submarine INS Sindhukirti shot in November 2015

Ingrained in the very design of a submarine is layer after layer of redundancy to ensure the worst does not take place. “In fact, our Shishumar-class submarines have a rescue sphere which allows the entire crew to escape when all efforts have failed and if the submarine continues to descend below operational depth,” said the admiral.

Those onboard ARA San Juan did not have the rescue sphere.

But they still had multiple mechanisms to guide rescuers. “All submarines have emergency indicator buoys which when released help locate the submarine and have a search and rescue beacon. In addition, there is an underwater pinger which can be picked by sonars and sonobuoys. If the submarine is sunk at depths from which escape using escape suits is possible, the crew can abandon the submarine and float on the surface.

These submarines also have life rafts which can be released from a depth of 150m,” added vice admiral KN Sushil (retd).

What if an Indian submarine suffered a similar fate?

Though the Indian Navy did lose INS Sindhurakshak in a tragic explosion inside the Mumbai Naval Dockyard in August 2013 where the crew on board was killed, it has never lost a submarine at sea.

“Operation centres keep a track of submarine positions. During peacetime a ‘check’ signal from the sub, sent over Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmission is received and anything to be conveyed is relayed. If there is no ‘check’ signal for 24 hours then in the 25th hour, the hunt with all available assets will begin,” explained a submariner who did not want to be quoted.

Within 48 hours of India requesting, based on a pre-existing arrangement with the United States, the US Navy would fly out its Deep Search and Rescue Vehicles (DSRVs) to aid the Indian efforts. “The entire logistics of flying out the DSRVs, bringing it and welding on to a ship which would take the material to the sea has been worked out,” revealed an officer aware of the matter.

By the end of 2018, India will operationalise two DSRVs of her own using which distressed submarines located as deep as 650m can access. It will help pull sailors to safety.

Since 2004-05, India has also been a participant to various international arrangements like NATO’s Submarine Escape and Rescue Working Group under which even non-NATO countries come together on a single platform to cooperate in case of submarine mishaps. “The best of what is available in the world can be pooled in. We’ve worked out these arrangements and practised the drill over the years,” said a source.

But all of this and more is at play in the waters of Argentina. Yet, the admiral said, “There are no happy stories of a lost submarine crew having been rescued alive using these techniques.”

In searching for an unresponsive submarine, ironically, its biggest strength becomes the biggest hurdle – stealth.

“A submarine’s build and shape prevents the ships from getting its picture. Bad weather can make a difficult job, more difficult,” said commander Ashok Bijalwan (retd), who has served onboard the Indian Navy’s Foxtrot and Kilo class submarines.

Another factor is crush depth – the depth at which the submarine will collapse inwards by the pressure exerted on it. Crush depth comes into the picture when the submarine is in a freefall, a downwards spiral.

“Generally the crush depth is two times the maximum depth to which a submarine can dive and operate. However, since the ARA San Juan is more than 30-years-old, the chances of it imploding even at lesser depths are possible”.

The takeaways for India are clear.

A group of relatives of the ARA San Juan crew left the President of Argentina Mauricio Macri speechless when they asked him why he couldn’t invest the state budget into buying newer and safer submarines.

With a submarine fleet whose average age is 25 years, India is only inching closer to an underwater disaster. If and when that happens, there will be no one to blame but ourselves.



SINO-INDIAN BORDER: After years of escalation, the unmarked line is cooling down. I report.

Story appeared in MAIL TODAY on December 30, 2016

2 MINUTE VIDEO explaining the story:



MALABAR 16: Why the combined might of US, Indian & Japanese navies is out at work today

With the combined fleets of the Indian, Japanese and American navies having sailed out of Sasebo harbour this morning, the 20th edition of MALABAR is well and truly underway.

Here is quick a compilation of who’s there, what’s at stake and what is different this time around:



What began in 1992 as a bilateral naval exercise between the US Navy and its Indian counterpart has now become a permanently trilateral forum also involving the Japanese.

Since 2007, MALABAR has been held alternately off the Indian and Western Pacific ocean. So, while the last one was held off the city of Chennai in the Bay of Bengal, this one’s being held in the PHILLIPPINE SEA in close proximity to a site fast evolving as a critical flash point in global affairs – SOUTH CHINA SEA.

The USA describes the MALABAR as, “Series of complex, high-end war-fighting exercises conducted to advance multi-national maritime relationships and mutual security issues.”

Members of the Indian, US and Japanese navies on board a participating ship


Like any exercise, this one too shall have events lined up first at shore and then at sea.


ON SHORE: There will be professional exchanges on issues like aircraft carrier strike group operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance operations, surface and anti-submarine warfare, medical operations, damage control, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), helicopter operations, and visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations.


AT SEA: Officer exchanges a photo exercise; submarine familiarization; high-value unit defense; air defense exercises; medical evacuation drills; surface warfare exercises; communications exercises; search and rescue exercises; helicopter cross-deck evolutions; underway replenishments; gunnery exercises; VBSS exercises; and anti-submarine warfare.


INS Satpura, Indian Navy’s indigenously designed and built stealth frigate entering the Sasebo harbour

The largest naval fleet in the world, the United States Navy will be participating with the presence of:

  • Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) with embarked Carrier Air Wing 9
  • Guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53)
  • Guided -missile destroyers USS Stockdale (DDG 106), USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93)
  • P-8A Poseidon aircraft
  • Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine

Indian Navy:

Her assets sailed out on May 18 from the port city of Visakhapatnam which houses the eastern fleet.  During what will eventually be a two and half month long deployment, the fleet would’ve touched Cam Rahn Bay (Vietnam), Subic Bay (Philippines), Sasebo (Japan), Busan (South Korea), Vladivostok (Russia) and Port Klang (Malaysia) with a four-day port call at each of the locations mentioned.

  • Stealth frigates Satpuraand Sahyadri, commanded by Captain AN Pramod and Captain KS Rajkumar respectively
  • INSShakti, a sophisticated fleet support ship, commanded by Capt Gagan Kaushal
  • INSKirchan indigenous guided missile corvette commanded by Commander Sharad Sinsunwal
  • Sea King 42B ASW helicopter
  • 2 Chetak utility helicopters
Japanese helicopter carrier JS Hyuga with other participating ships lined up in formation

Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF):

  • JS Hyuga, a helicopter carrier with SH 60 K integral helicopters
  • Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft, besides other advanced warships for specific parts of the exercise.


Additionally, the Special Forces (SF) of the three navies will also interact during the exercise.

HOW IS THE 20th edition of MALABAR scheduled?

  • Harbour phase at Sasebo from 10 to 13 June 16
  • Sea phase in the Pacific Ocean from 14 to 17 June


In 2015, when Japan was made a permanent invitee to MALABAR, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson was said to have reacted like this:

“You mentioned India is having naval exercises with US and Japan and you ask whether China is concerned. I think you are thinking too much,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying shot back when asked for China’s reaction to the exercises which are due to start today in the Bay of Bengal. “Everyday a lot of activities take place around the world. We cannot connect every activity with China,” she said. “We are not that fragile and we are having sound relationship with both India and the US. We hope that relevant activities will contribute to the regional stability they will contribute more positive energy for that,” she said.

This time, however, the Chinese have taken a more nuanced stand. In their foreign ministry briefing on June 8, spokesperson HONG LEI said, “The Chinese side has noted the report. It is hoped that this drill is conducive to regional peace, security and stability.



In its 19th edition, the Indian Navy was represented by INS Shivalik an indigenous frigate, INS Ranvijay a guided missile destroyer, INS Betwa an indigenous frigate and INS Shakti ­­­­a Fleet Support Ship. In addition, one Sindhugosh class submarine,INS Sindhudhvaj, Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft P8I and integral rotary wing helicopters.

The US Navy was represented by the ships from Carrier Task Force (CTF) 70 of the USN 7th Fleet, based at Yokosuka, Japan and included Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, Ticonderoga class Cruiser USSNormandy and Freedom Class Littoral Combat ship USS Forth Worth. In addition, one Los Angeles class nuclear powered submarine USS City of Corpus Christi, F18 Aircraft from US Carrier Air Wing and P8A Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

The JMSDF was represented by JSFuyuzuki, a missile destroyer with SH 60K integral helicopter.

US Defence Secy Carter in India: Key takeaways here


PIC5Defence Minister MANOHAR PARRIKAR’s speech on the eve of joint statement with Dr Ashton Carter, Secretary of Defence, USA

It is indeed a great pleasure for me to receive Dr Carter in India. This is his second visit in less than a year, reflecting his continued interest in expanding bilateral defence relations between our two countries.

As many of you are aware, Secretary Carter is the architect of the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative. DTTI has provided an unprecedented platform for our two countries to strengthen bilateral cooperation in cutting-edge technologies and to address procedural delays in decision-making. We have decided to take forward discussions under DTTI more aggressively on key areas such as Jet Engine technology. We will also continue our very useful and productive discussions on cooperation in the framework of the Joint Working Group on aircraft carriers. We also agreed to expand DTTI by introducing new and more ambitious projects for mutual collaboration. Both of us noted the strong complementarities between DTTI and the Make in India initiative. I hope to work together with Secretary Carter over the coming weeks and months to facilitate synergies between Indian and US companies in high technology areas, and in particular to promote participation of Indian companies in global supply chains.

It was entirely appropriate that we visited India’s western shores. Even as we work with the United States to realize the full potential of India’s Act East policy, we also seek a closer partnership with the United States to promote our shared interests in India’s West, especially in the context of the emerging situation in West Asia.

With a view to taking our cooperation forward, Secretary Carter and I have agreed to set up a new bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue between officials from our respective Defence and External Affairs Ministries. We have also decided to enhance our on-going Navy-to-Navy discussions to cover submarine-related issues. Both countries will also deepen cooperation in Maritime Domain Awareness by finalizing a ‘White Shipping’ Agreement.

The growing interaction between our armed forces is another significant aspect of our bilateral partnership. Today, India has more joint exercises with the United States than with any other country in the world. After a few years, we are taking part in multilateral exercises such as the Red Flag Air Force exercise and the RIMPAC Naval Exercise. As our engagement deepens, we need to develop practical mechanisms to facilitate such exchanges. In this context, Secretary Carter and I agreed in principle to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in the coming months.

We also discussed the regional security environment. I underlined India’s continuing concern at terrorism in the region directed against us. Secretary Carter emphasised that eliminating terrorism, and the ideology and infrastructure that supports it, is a common objective the United States shares with India. We look forward to even closer bilateral cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism.

India and the United States are both strongly committed to a rule-based international order. We will continue to work together to maintain peace and stability and to maintain an enabling framework for progress and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.





Bilateral Defence cooperation is a key component of the strategic partnership between India and the United States.Secretary Carter’s visit marked the fourth meeting between him and Raksha Mantri Parrikar within a year, demonstrating the regular Ministerial-level oversight of the robust and deepening bilateral Defence relationship.

They discussed the priorities for the coming year in defence ties, as well as specific steps both sides will take to pursue those priorities. These included expanding collaboration under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI); Make in India efforts of Government of India; new opportunities to deepen cooperation in maritime security and Maritime Domain Awareness; military-to-military relations; the knowledge partnership in the field of defence; and regional and international security matters of mutual interest.

They welcomed plans across our Services for greater complexity in their military engagements and exercises, including developing plans for more advanced maritime exercises. Both sides acknowledged India’s participation in the Rim-of-the-Pacific (RIMPAC) multilateral naval exercise in 2016 as well as participation by the Indian Air Force in the multilateral Red Flag exercise in April-May 2016 in Alaska and U.S. participation in the International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in February 2016.They expressed their desire to explore agreements which would facilitate further expansion of bilateral defence cooperation in practical ways. In this regard, they announced their in principle agreement to conclude a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, and to continue working toward other facilitating agreements to enhance military cooperation and technology transfer.

In support of the India-U.S. Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region and the maritime security objectives therein, both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security. In this context, they reaffirmed their desire to expeditiously conclude a “white shipping” technical arrangement to improve data sharing on commercial shipping traffic. They agreed to commence Navy-to-Navy discussions on submarine safety and anti-submarine warfare. They also agreed to launch a bilateral Maritime Security Dialogue, co-chaired by officials at the Joint Secretary/Assistant Secretary-level of the Indian Ministries of Defence and External Affairs and the U.S. Departments of Defense and State.

Secretary Carter and Raksha Mantri Parrikar reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea.

In this context, they agreed to initiate two new DTTI pathfinder projects on Digital Helmet Mounted Displays and the Joint Biological Tactical Detection System. They commended the on-going discussions at the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group (JETJWG)and the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC). They agreed to work towards greater cooperation in the field of cutting-edge defence technologies, including deepening consultations on aircraft carrier design and operations, and jet engine technology. They noted the understanding reached to conclude an information exchange annex (IEA) to enhance data and information sharing specific to aircraft carriers.

In support of Make in India, the United States shared two proposals to bolster India’s suite of fighter aircraft for consideration of the Government of India.

Secretary Carter and Raksha Mantri Parrikar welcomed the finalization of four government-to-government project agreements in the area of science and technology cooperation: Atmospheric Sciences for High Energy Lasers, Cognitive Tools for Target Detection, Small Intelligent Unmanned Aerial Systems, and Blast and Blunt Traumatic Brain Injury.

Before departing India, Secretary Carter will oversee a repatriation ceremony of U.S. World War II remains from India to the United States.




They discussed the secretary’s trip to Goa, his visit to the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya  and Karwar Naval Base – a first for a secretary of defense – as well as a range of security issues.

Secretary Carter shared with the prime minister his views on the unprecedented military-to-military ties between the two countries right now..

The secretary reinforced his view that India, like the United States, seeks to be a net exporter of security, and the two countries will continue to work with other partners to shape a regional security architecture that will allow all to rise and prosper.


OPINION: My piece about a charade even the glorious #RepublicDayParade couldn’t mask

With the customary release of balloons, the 67th Republic Day parade was over. Most faces sported a smile, not all though.

Sometime last year, with the experience of the previous parade behind them, the powers that be argued for a presentation that was cogent and, more importantly, concise. For the planners, the Ceremonial Division of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the message was clear – the duration of the parade had to be minimised.


On December 12, 2015, an Under Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to his counterpart in the MoD. Titled ‘Composition of Parade’, the single page note consisted names of all the MHA contingents which would participate. Those not included were the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which secures our frontiers with China, Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB), which does the same along Nepal and Bhutan and the most visible armed police force, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards utilities like metro, airports, ports etc. Arguments were put forward that some would be accommodated in the ‘Beating The Retreat’ ceremony and it would all be the same.

Did it turn out this way?

Depicting the anguish, on January 27, former Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF) Prakash Singh tweeted, “Republic Day Parade had space for Army dogs, but contingents of Central Forces like ITBP, CISF and SSB, were kept out”. A Whatsapp message the author received from a CISF officer went like this: We wear khakhi thus aren’t as privileged as the army dogs who will be allowed on Rajpath.

Before the parade and after the closure of the celebrations, chat platforms have been awash with the ”ugliness of armed forces being made to sit out”. Multiple voices spoke about the need to have ”somehow managed without making forces get out”. Some suggested that marching down the Rajpath in their ceremonial splendour was but a rare opportunity to leave their impression on the nation’s psyche. “We can’t expect the public to come and see us at remote border outposts,” explained an officer. The combined anger was directed at the Prime Minister, his party as well as functionaries of the Home and Defence ministries. Even the ‘big brother’, the army wasn’t spared. What only a few know is that the army too had to reduce its imprint. From readying ten formations for the parade, it eventually had to turn away two of them, at the last minute.

Under pressure, with barely a week before the parade, a reassessment was done. But only the Border Security Force’s Camel Contingent was asked to join.

Interestingly, the cultural end of the parade has had no such issues.

MoD’s data shows that from a total of 19 tableaux and four groups of school children performing in 2013, the number has consistently risen. Last year, a total of 25 tableaux and six groups of children performed. This year, 23 tableaux and six groups of children were accorded the opportunity.

Having done all of this, the planners did meet the goal and managed to make the parade shorter by a good 21 minutes.

Some, however, are still asking if it was worth the heartburn.


UNDERWATER WARFARE: Quietly, navy prepares its biggest batch of submariners. I report.

Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on Dec 28, 2015

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.

Crew strength

·         Sindhughosh class: 53

·         Shishumar class: 40

·         INS CHAKRA: 100

·         Arihant class: 100

·         Kalvari class: 72