Russian experts denied access to sunk submarine, INS Sindhurakshak - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 19 September 2013

Russian experts denied access to sunk submarine, INS Sindhurakshak

Something to hide? Russian technicians, present in Mumbai at the time of the accident, have been kept away

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 13

More than a month after the submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, sank in Mumbai after at least one fiery explosion on board, there is little clarity about what caused the disaster. And with the Indian Navy unable to raise the submarine to the surface, seawater is wiping out evidence of what might have happened in the vessel’s last fateful moments.

Inexplicably, the navy and MoD have flatly refused offers of help from a team of at least five Russian experts who were in Mumbai on Aug 14, when the Sindhurakshak sank at the Naval Dockyard. Zvezdochka, the Russian shipyard that refurbished and upgraded the submarine from 2011-13, had positioned the technicians in Mumbai to respond to any defects during the guarantee period.

Top Indian officials in New Delhi say the Mumbai-based Russian team offered assistance immediately after the Sindhurakshak disaster, but were told by Naval authorities in Mumbai that no help was needed. Nor were the Russians allowed access to the Naval Dockyard, where the Sindhurakshak still lies submerged in 10-15 metres of water.

Moscow also responded to the incident by immediately flying down a senior defence official to New Delhi. He too was told that no assistance was required. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, also offered assistance in a public statement.

Top Russian officials worry that, in the absence of clarity about the cause of the accident, crew morale would be affected in the 50-plus Kilo class submarines in service across the world.

Kilo class submarines equip the navies of Russia (17 vessels); China (12 vessels); India (9, excluding Sindhurakshak) and several others.

“It is absolutely vital for the confidence of our submarine crews that the cause of the accident be pinpointed, and remedial measures and procedures be instituted,” says Vice Admiral (Retired) KN Sushil, a veteran submariner.

The Indian Navy, contacted for comments, says that it is “in dialogue with the Russians. Further, (the Russians) are and will be consulted wherever/whenever a need is felt. The Navy is committed to using all requisite resources to enable a comprehensive inquiry and to ascertain the cause of the incident.”

The Russian side believes that the only reason why the Indian Navy would exclude Russia from investigations is the apprehension that crew errors might have caused the explosion, not equipment failure or systems malfunction.

“We know every nut, bolt and screw in the Kilo class submarines. What reason could there possibly be to deny us access to the Sindhurakshak?” asks a Russian official who requests anonymity in view of the delicacy of the issue.

Moscow has experience of the sensitivities involved in handling such incidents that are simultaneously tragic and strategic. When the Russian Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk, sank in 108 metres of water in Aug 2000 with 118 sailors on board, Russia declined British and Norwegian offers to help with rescue. Eventually all 118 sailors perished, though evidence was found that some had remained alive for at least several hours, and possibly several days.

Indian statements made soon after the Sindhurakshak incident pointedly note that the submarine had been recently refurbished by Zvezdochka (Little Star) shipyard, at Archangelsk, Russia. Major systems had been upgraded and weapons and sensor packages installed afresh, as specified by India. The new systems included the Klub-S cruise missile system, an Indian navigational system, and the Ushus sonar.

“We have not ruled out an equipment malfunction, possibly due to the recent refurbishment,” says a senior naval official.

Russian officials say there has been mild friction between naval officers of both countries, sparked by the Indian Navy’s insistence on following its own operating procedures, rather than those recommended by the Russian Navy and by Russian shipyards.

Says a Russian official, “This is not necessarily bad. Every navy has its traditions and procedures and the Indian Navy has inherited many from the Royal Navy. But safety procedures are specific to a vessel and to the equipment in it, and cannot be deviated from.”

For now, INS Sindhurakshak continues to languish underwater. The MoD has issued an international tender to lift the vessel back to the surface.

INS Sindhurakshak was a 2,300-tonne, Project 877 EKM submarine (Kilo class is its NATO designation), which joined the Indian navy in 1997. It is manned by a crew of 52 sailors, and has a top speed of 19 knots (35 kmph). It can dive to a depth of 1000 feet below the surface. 


  1. Clearly the blast indicates, that there was a slip. Such things happen to the best in the world. But the best always find the actual reason and improve the systems. We did not develop the systems, so IN has to allow the prime engineers who built this sub to inspect to clearly outline the root cause and the remedy. Trying to hush up will do more harm to the systems and IN.

  2. coin has two faces... refurbishment short comings... not to be lost... SOPs... deficiency... not to be... revealed...

  3. INS Kursk??? :-(

    - Manne

  4. INS Kursk or K-141 Kursk?

  5. Another example of red-tapism & bureaucracy prevailing in defence forces. As the sub was made in Russia the Russians were very much accustomed to it. As there was not much third party equipment, so there was less chance of getting any secret exposed. Quick decision making is the need of the hour. Maybe some lives could have been saved by now. In this particular situation Russian help is very much needed since if really some fault presents then it can be rectified before hand for the other kilo class subs. Similar joint studies could have been done in Mig planes before preventing number of crashes.

  6. "Israeli spike not nearly as capable"......Hmmm.....maybe you might like to look closely at why javelin dropped out of the tendering process , a little birdie says it was not a price issue:)

  7. It's incredible that the Indian Navy has not made any headway in raising the submarine nearly a month after the tragedy! A good crew and a few floating cranes would have done the job weeks ago.

    Even a huge luxury liner like the Costa Concordia was rolled on the sea-floor and that is much much larger and fragile than this submarine.

    Either this is a display of extreme ineptitude and bureaucratic hand wringing or there is something really sensitive that was going on in the sindhurakshak when it exploded. The Indian Navy is not so thin-skinned or crazy as to severely demoralize and cripple its entire under-sea arm just because it doesn't want crew negligence or shoddy safety procedures to come to light.

  8. IF the Indian Navy can't load a non-nuclear submarine properly without blowing themselves up how can we entrust them a nuclear boat with nuclear ordinance ??

    They may just drop a nuclear missile or a warhead and detonate it at port destroying an entire city in the process due to their callous disregard for safety.

    The MoD must force the Navy to disclose the cause of the Sindhurakshak explosion as soon as possible by holding the Arihant project over them.

    Its better to be safe than sorry.

  9. Thanks for this piece sir. Very well written - as always.

    I wonder why this important news doesn't figure in debates in main stream media!

    - Tanuj, Noida

  10. why the pussy footing? smell a rat? is there any co-relation between this tragedy and Aug 14 which is Pak I Day?

  11. broadsword,

    which submarines will be bought most likely?

  12. @ Manne, Anonymous 10:36

    Thanks for pointing out INS Kursk. What a blooper!!

  13. Comments on this blog are not flattering to the Indian Navy personnel especially coming from "Anonymous" who probably is twenty years old and has not seen the business end of a gun.

    Accidents rarely happen in naval operations, but they do happen. US nuclear submarine Threshar sank with 150 sailors. Nobody ever told what happened to it. During the Vietnam war, US set its own aircraft carrier on fire. It was mis-operation of a landing aircraft. Russians sank Kursk with one hundred sailors. In all there are about 30 major naval mishaps worldwide in last 30 years. The sailors did not wish any of those, but accidents do happen even under best care

    This unfortunate submarine had just returned from Russia after a refit. It has the newest weapon load. Anyone of the newer technology could have exploded during handling. Hence slow down. Let it be raised and examined as none of the sailors busy loading /unloading has survived to tell the tale.

    Russians cannot be allowed near it as they, the contractors of refit could have left some issues unfinished or supplied a faulty weapon.

    The cause of the Kursk sinking was determined to be an exploding torpedo which exploded during handling. Moreover 80% of the ordnance onboard this Indian Sub is still intact. Imagine that during handling and review, this ordinance begins to explode killing the Russian technicians also.

    Hence first carefully raise it. Take out the explosives which are intact and then begin examining it.


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