The fatal attraction to 'Made in Russia
Our hearts go out to the families of the 18 gallant Indian Navy personnel who went down in the submarine Sindhurakshak in the Lions Gate naval dockyard in Mumbai following a series of deafening explosions on board.
Its manual and automatic alarm systems did not work during the emergency, trapping its crew of three officers, including the executive officer, and 15 sailors inside. The executive officer is the second in command of the submarine.
It is unusual for a senior like the executive officer to be on board a berthed vessel unless there was an emergency.
While the crew members were aboard the vessel on the fateful night, nine Russian technicians, who were in Mumbai under a one-year warranty agreement, were ensconced in their hotel rooms.
A Kilo-class, diesel-electric, conventional submarine procured from Russia, Sindhurakshak was inducted in the Navy only in 2000. The normal life span of this type of submarines is 20 years.
It was sent back to Russia in June 2010 for maintenance and extensive modernization at the Zvyozdochka shipyard at Severodvinsk. After an in-depth refit reportedly at a cost of Rs. 450 crore, it docked in Mumbai “in perfect operational shape” in April this year.
Modern diesel-electric submarines are equipped with air independent propulsion which considerably enhances their underwater endurance.
Submarines without AIP are forced to surface once in a few days for recharging their batteries.
Pakistan, while taking delivery of its latest submarine, PNS Hamza, from France, made sure it was fitted with AIP. Its other two submarines of the same class are also being fitted with AIP system.
None of the 10 Kilo-class submarines India procured from Russia is equipped with AIP. They are most susceptible to detection by maritime patrol aircraft while surfacing to recharge batteries.
The political class in India and the mandarins in our establishments seem to have a fatal attraction for things Russian. In 2004, men in charge of defence procurement shopping for an aircraft carrier, picked up a junked warship from a Russian yard free of cost and entered into a contract to retrofit it as an aircraft carrier for Rs. 4,600 crore, and deliver it in 2008.
Named INS Admiral Gorshkov, conversion and equipment cost had gone up to Rs. 12,000 crore by 2008, much more than the cost of a brand new aircraft carrier, and the delivery date postponed to 2012.
Admiral Gorshkov failed “spectacularly” during sea trials in mid-2012 with eight of its nine boilers exploding. To set right the boilers and to make the floating junk sea worthy, the Russians wanted another Rs. 4,000 crore.
There is no knowing when Admiral Gorshkov would be inducted in the Navy. The Indian Air Force is similarly burdened with unsafe MiG fighter aircraft from Russia, described as flying coffins.
Introduction of the indigenous light combat aircraft has been delayed deliberately.
Defence is not the only area in which our netas are fixated to Russia. A far more lethal game is being played by Atomstroyexport, Russia’s atomic energy corporation, in setting up a nuclear power plant at Koodankulam in south India.
Even after the Central Information Commission order to make public the Safety Analysis Report of the plant, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, executing the project, refused to budge, for it has much to hide.
Russia is prosecuting its officers responsible for supplying sub-standard equipment for the Koodankulam plant, but the UPA government is least bothered. It wants the plant to be commissioned, come what may.
The first unit of the plant attained criticality almost two months ago but it has not produced electricity to light even a zero Watt bulb so far. There is no official explanation why.
The people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala are hoping against hope that Koodankulam does not go the way of Sindhurakshak.