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Series of incidents at India´s submarine fleet continues

Repeatedly we reported in the recent past in our “Flotsam” issues about incidents and accidents involving Indian Navy submarines of the “Kilo”-Class. Now, another piece of news about a severe incident on one of the remaining 9 submarines of this class in India came out. According to that a fire broke out on 26 February 2014 on board submarine INS Sindhuratna with heavy smoke developing, causing the death of two officers and seven more crewmember suffering from smoke poisoning to having to be airlifted by rescue helicopter to the Naval Hospital at Asvini. The crew, however, managed to fight the fire successfully getting the submarine under full control. The submarine had just completed its main overhaul and had started its sea trials west of its base at Mumbai.

After the submarine berthed on 27 February 2014 a major incident investigation was initiated, revealing that the fire apparently broke at the ratings mess deck in the submarine´s forward compartment No. 3, which is located right above the forward battery compartment, the latter having not experienced any damage, luckily. The two officers killed during the fire were found only after the arrival of the submarine.

While Commanding Officers were relieved from command in earlier incidents, this time even the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Indian Navy, Admiral Devendra Kumar Joshi, declared his resign from office with immediate effect in light of the increasing number of incidents in the Indian Navy, also many outside the submarine fleet. The current Vice Chief of Naval Staff (VCNS), Vice Admiral Robin K. Dhowan, has been given the responsibilities of CNS until further notice.

Meanwhile, a contract to salvage the “”Kilo”-Class submarine INS Sindhurakshak has been awarded in early February 2014, to be executed within the next three months, raising the U-boat from the ground after it sank on 14 August 2013 at the pier at the Naval Base at Mumbai following a severe fire and explosion on board.


Construction of another 6 SSGNs of the USN “Virginia”-Class budgeted in FY 2014/2015

The recent proposals for the US Defence Budget October 2014 to October 2015 (FY 2014/15) include among other projects the funding of the further construction of SSGNs of the “Virginia”-Class, which means building orders for 6 units throughout the next five years. Stunning the budgeted costs per submarine: It is an amazing 2,7 Bill USD (= 1.94 Bill. Euros)! The share of the US Navy within the US Defence Budget 2014/ 2015 is 148 Bill. USD, which is about 8 Bill. USD less than in the current FY 2013/ 2014.

We have reported about the “Virginia”-Class project in our “Flotsam” of February 2014. According to that 10 units have been commissioned already until the end of 2013 of these SSGNs, still officially planned to grow up to a total of 30 units. The submarines are able to fire up to 24 torpedoes from their 4 torpedo tubes, as well as UGM-109 “Tomahawk” cruise missiles and/ or UGM-84 “SubHarpoon” anti-ship-missiles from their 12 vertical launchers. 8 more units are currently under construction.

Now, the new budget finances the construction of 6 more units (SSN-792 to SSN-797) of the program named “SSN-774/ Virginia”, to be delivered in 2019, 2020 and 2012, with 2 units per year each. With that, some 24 units of the “Virginia”-Class SSGNs are either commissioned, under construction or building orders budgeted.



Future of the Dutch submarine flotilla

In recent years the Dutch Armed Forces have experienced partially dramatic budget cuts, same as most other Armed Forces have. The Dutch Navy was not exempted from this. The last major cut leading to factual enormous structural changes, such as reductions and re-organizations at a lower level, have been implemented in 2011. Meanwhile, the Royal Netherlands Navy has shrunk to a size of some 8,500 personnel as part of the total of 37,360 soldiers of the Dutch Armed Forces. The number of Naval vessels has gone down to 21 (2 LPDs, 6 frigates, 6 OPVs, 6 MHCs and 4 submarines, plus a few others), plus 20 new Naval helicopters.

The HNLMS Walrus (S802) in Belfast 2008, Aubrey Dale, CC BY-SA 2.0

The 4 diesel-electric submarines of the “Walrus”-Class are a Netherland´s design. Their construction at the Rotterdamse Droogsdok Maatschappijs shipyard goes back some 30 years, costs about 470 Mill. Guilders (= 212 Mill. Euros) at that time. The First of Class Walrus (S-802) was keel-laid in October 1979, but a severe fire during construction (damage: 225 Mill. Guilders/ = 101 Mill. Euros) delayed the commissioning to 25 Mar 1992. Other commissionings: Zeeleeuw (S-803) on 25 April 1990, Dolfijn (S-808) on 29 January 1993 and Bruinsvis (S-810) on 05 July 1994. The submarines have a length of 67.7 m and a width of 8.4 m, their underwater displacement is about 2,800 t.

The maximum speed at the surface is 13 kn and submerged up to 20 kn. The maximum range at economical speed of 9 kn is 10,000 nmi, the maximum operational diving depth is said to be about 400 m. The main armament is torpedoes, of which up to 20 can be taken along, alternatively up to 40 mines. The submarines are fitted for the launching of UGM-84 SubHarpoon anti-ship-missiles, the required missiles, however, have never been procured yet. The crew comprises 55 personnel, among those also women.

In 2007 a first modernization program was launched, which saw the introduction of Mk 48 Mod 7 torpedoes to be fired from the four torpedo tubes remaining after the reduction from formerly six tubes. Also, a new optronic mast replaced the old periscope, and a new mine prevention sonar was installed. Much better than before the submarines are able now to operate close to shores, as Zeeleeuw has demonstrated while assigned to NATO´s Anti Piracy Operation off the Horn of Africa in the Autumn of 2010. Interesting enough, a conversion to modern air independent propulsion was given up although initially being evaluated. And, on 13 May 2013 a 120 Mill. USD (= 94 Mill. Euros) contract was awarded to ImTech Marine Netherlands for a “Life Extension Program”, giving the submarines a service time extended to 2030. Zeeleeuw is the first one to receive such measures, “Walrus” will be the last in line.

The low numbers of units in each of the components of the Dutch fleet constitute a permanent danger to an ongoing maintenance of such components under operational and management criteria. Such, the Dutch Naval Aviation had to give up its capabilities for fix-wing anti-submarine warfare and long-range sea reconnaissance provided by its LRMPA Lockheed P3 C Orion, although these were just upgraded. In 2006 the aircraft were purchased by the German Naval Aviation and are still operated today from NAS Nordholz, Germany. The well-known discussion about role sharing and capability management among NATO nations has lived up recently, and it directly focuses at components with low number of units as it is the case in many NATO Navies.

With that, the small flotilla of just 4 submarines of the Royal Netherlands Navy repeatedly is part of considerations of abandoning, as Denmark has done so in 2004. So far, one succeeded in bringing forward convincingly enough sufficient arguments to further maintain a Dutch submarine component. The measures recently introduced to extent the service time for at least another 15 years seem to have secured the existence of Dutch submarines initially. Notwithstanding, the example of the sudden selling of the Dutch P3C Orions despite a just completed upgrade demonstrate a not necessarily safe planning environment, same as the frequent cuts in number of units to running procurement programs show. Noteworthy also, that, given the usual 10 to 15 years of conceptual work before giving building orders, any considerations for a procurement program for new Dutch submarines has not developed beyond some basic and preliminary ideas yet.


First female watch officer on board a U-boat of the German Navy

In our “Flotsam”-Issues of July and August 2013 we have reported about the on-the-job training of potential U-boat Watch Officers during the deployment of U 32 to the East coast of the US, among others there was also a female officer under training.

Now, in early 2014 the 27 years old Oberleutnant zur See (= Sublieutenant) Janine Asseln has been appointed to join crew “Delta” of the 1st German U-Flotilla after she successfully reached all qualifications mandatory for U-boat Officers. In early March 2014 the media spread the news widely, using headlines such as “Home alone under men”. Besides, female crew members on board German U-boats is nothing new, however, Ms. Asseln is the first commissioned officer to do so. Meanwhile, service on board of German U-boats by female personnel is routine for more than 10 years, although rather sporadic, even on the former German U-boats of the 206A-Class. And, Norway appointed the first female Commanding Officer of a submarine in 1995.

Crew “Delta” including Oberleutnant zur See Asseln of the 1st German U-Flotilla is one of the currently 7 crews put together to operate the 4 type 212A U-boats of the German Navy for firmly scheduled times on mission duties, with the 5th unit to join in 2014. Also, U 36, currently undergoing its extensive sea and weapon trials, will join the flotilla as unit No.6 in the foreseeable future.

Oberleutnant zur See Janine Asseln has joined the German Navy in 2006 as Officer Candidate and passed the usual training, e.g. as cadet on board the sail training ship Gorch Fock, the internship on board combatants and at the Naval Academy at Flensburg. She then studied Industrial Management at one of the Armed Forces Universities, before joining U-boat officers training. Other than several of her female fellow officers she was the only one so far to pass successfully the rigid and demanding training to become a U-boat Watch Officer, to be appointed now as fully qualified officer on board a U-boat.