7 minute readQ&A: Navy’s top submariner explains

StratPost recently had the opportunity to pose some questions over email to the senior-most submariner in the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral Srikant, Inspector General Nuclear Submarines (IGNS), about the state and future of the submarine arm, on the occasion of its golden jubilee.

How has training and cadre management in the submarine arm evolved over the last fifty years?

INS Satavahana, commissioned in 1974, has been functioning as the alma mater of all Indian Navy submariners. In its primary role, it imparts basic and advanced training to officers and sailors who volunteer to be a submariner. Today, INS Satavahana has evolved into a state-of-the-art training school with modern simulators and training infrastructure, which includes the latest Kalvari class submarines. Submarine personnel from Friendly Foreign Navies have been trained at INS Satavahana.

The Submarine Arm has grown significantly in the last 50 years. From the erstwhile Foxtrot Class submarines inducted between 1967 to 1974, the Indian Navy is operating five different Class of Submarines at present. The Cadre management has had its own challenges, wherein from training officers and sailors for only one class of submarines, the Submarine Arm has had to train personnel for seven classes of submarines. The Submarine Cadre Management is continuously trying to address the issues pertaining to training and cross employability of officers. Constant efforts to address the challenges of manpower and training have led to reduction of training timelines, thus leading to better employability of manpower.

What is the submarine arm’s roadmap for training and maintenance of platforms and equipment with exponentially increasing levels of sophistication?

The IN’s maintenance philosophy has kept pace with capability enhancements onboard submarines. Accordingly, several Projects have been initiated for enhancing the Dockyard Repair Facilities for undertaking maintenance of legacy submarines.

What is the submarine arm’s action plan for induction and consolidation of the Scorpene type in the Indian Navy?

The submarine arm has analysed the capabilities which will be inducted into the Navy through the Scorpene submarines and appropriate doctrines have been formulated to optimally exploit the capabilities of these class of submarines. These doctrines would be tested and refined. The necessary infrastructure and skill sets as also spares and tools are also being progressively built up to maintain and refit these submarines.

What are the priorities and timelines for the forthcoming new acquisition of submarines under Project 75(India)?

The policy on Strategic Partnership (SP) Model was promulgated by GoI as Chapter VII of DPP-16 titled ‘Revitalising Defence Industrial Ecosystem through Strategic Partnerships’ on 31 May 17. The RFI for the case has already been issued in Jul 17 and the other steps are being progressed as per the guidelines promulgated by MoD.

What are the challenges for the forthcoming new acquisition of submarines under Project 75(India), including, with reference to competing naval budgetary priorities such as IAC2, new fighter aircraft, NUH and NMRH?

Project 75(I) has re-started with the promulgation of Policy on Strategic Partnership (SP) Model promulgated by GoI in May 17 as Chapter VII in DPP 16. The RFI for shortlisting Foreign OEMs for the submarine segment has been issued in Jul 17. Issuance of RFP to shortlisted Strategic Partners is being targeted for mid-2018. While projects such as IAC2, new fighter aircraft, NUH and NMRH would certainly require significant investments, they are essential for retaining the cutting edge of our Navy. Therefore, funds would be made available by the GoI/MoD. The yearly outflow of funds would be planned keeping in mind the total allocation of Capital Budget for the Navy.

How do you envisage the Make in India initiative being implemented for the forthcoming new acquisition of submarines under Project 75(India)?

Project 75(I) submarines would be constructed by an Indian shipyard with transfer of technology from a foreign collaborator, thus providing a major impetus to indigenous submarine construction under the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government. The policy on Strategic Partnership (SP) Model has been promulgated by GoI as Chapter VII of DPP-16 titled ‘Revitalising Defence Industrial Ecosystem through Strategic Partnerships’ on 31 May 17. The RFI for the case has already been initiated and the other steps are being progressed as per the guidelines promulgated by MoD.

What initiatives have been considered and implemented to enhance safety onboard submarines in the light of the accidents in the past few years?

Submarines are designed to operate in one of the most hazardous and unforgiving mediums – the sea. They are very complex machines and require skilled manpower to operate and exploit their designed capabilities. Submarining is a unique profession. Adherence to Standard Operating Procedures and prescribed safety standards is mandatory. Dos and Don’ts of submarining are inviolable. Our Submarine personnel are volunteers and among the best in the world who undergo a very rigorous selection and training process. The Navy has a dedicated three-tier Safety Organisation that routinely, and at times randomly, inspects Safety aspects of ships and submarines. Additionally, a dedicated Submarine Work-up Team also functions under the aegis of Flag Officer Submarines – the Submarine Class Authority, to further strengthen the workup and safety inspection processes for submarines in particular.

What measures has the navy taken to ensure the security of data in partnership with vendors in the context of the reports of data leakage that emerged in Australia with respect to Indian Scorpene submarines?

The aspect of data security is in-built into all contracts with parties who may participate in the submarine construction activity at MDL. Further, the most critical data that relates to the performance characteristic established during trials and the analysis of the trial results have been secured in an appropriate manner considering the sensitivities of the information.

How have the responsibilities of the submarine arm evolved over the last fifty years and what are the emerging challenges, political, military, cyber or strategic, that you have identified, for which the submarine arm has to now prepare to shoulder responsibility?

As India pursues sustained economic growth and development, it is now well established that the maritime domain is the prime facilitator of our economy, which is inextricably linked to the seas. The roles and responsibilities of the Indian Navy to safeguard the nation’s expanding maritime and economic interests, are growing. The Submarine Arm of the Indian Navy is a vital cog-in-the-wheel as the Indian Navy equips and trains to operate in the maritime domain to fulfil its mandate.

The Navy maintains the required force level of submarines as per the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan. Our current force mix of 14 submarines – nine Sindhughosh class and four Shishumar Class submarines and INS Chakra, present us many challenges. While their numbers are less than that envisaged as per the MCPP, maintaining and operating these ageing platforms is a challenging task. This notwithstanding, backed by dedicated repair and logistics infrastructure, these boats continue to be at the forefront of undersea operations of the Navy.

In order to retain their combat potency, a slew of measures have already been initiated to enhance their service life and addition of contemporary weapons and sensors for obsolescence management. New construction projects such as the Kalvari Class Submarines under Project 75 and the subsequent Project 75 (I), will progressively address the force level challenges. Kalvari is likely to be commissioned shortly and the other five boats will also be inducted within the next 2-3 years.

Very early, the Navy had recognised the strategic and tactical implications of developments in nuclear propulsion by foreign navies. This foresight and strategic wisdom saw the infusion of nuclear technology into our capabilities, affording us stealth, virtually unlimited endurance, reach, mobility and freedom of action. After having operated the earlier Chakra in the late-1980s, the present INS Chakra, on a 10-year lease from Russia is fully integrated into the Navy. The cumulative knowledge and proficiency in operating and maintaining a nuclear submarine will stand in good stead as we move on with the Indigenous SSN programme.

It can thus be seen that the Submarine Arm is more-than-ever prepared to counter the emerging challenges and contribute towards fulfilment of the Navy’s mandate of safeguarding the maritime interests of India.

Images: Indian Navy

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