Home / October

The Indian Submarine Force after the INS Sindhurakshak accident

In “Flotsam” issue of September 2013 we have reported about the tragic accident on board the Indian submarine INS Sindhurakshak on 14  August 2013 in the Indian Naval Base of Mumbai, where meanwhile confirmed 18 sailors lost their lives.

Although the investigation as to the causes of the explosion and the following fire on board are ongoing since, information seem to become firm about the escape of hydrogen gases during the charging process of the batteries, which has led to the explosion of a 400 kg HE warhead of a KLUB-S missile on board. Indian Defence Minister Antony has even indicated possible sabotage, whereas Russian experts that have good knowledge of the Indian “Kilo”-Class submarines rather assume improper and security rules violating handling of the charging by the crew as the main reason for the accident. The submarine is considered to be irreparable and will be de-commissioned consequently.

The fleet of now 9 remaining Indian “Kilo”-Class submarines has led to many reports and commentary by the media about the current operational readiness and the future of the Indian submarine force. Is it said this part of the Indian fleet that claims to be the regional Naval power in the Indian Ocean reaches no more than 40 % operational readiness. The fleet of former 16 submarines will see the 4 SKKs of the German export Type 209 to reach the end of their lifetime in 2015, and the modernization of the remaining “Kilo”-Class SSKs needs to be speeded up significantly to maintain an appropriate number of serviceable submarines, until the 6 “Scorpene”-Class SSKs currently under construction join the fleet. That project contracted with DCNS/ Navantia in 2005 experiences repeated delays, with the commissioning of the First of Class scheduled lately for 2016 being even further delayed, to expect the conclusion of the project not before 2022. Also, the creation of a fleet of nuclear powered submarines is now in troubled waters. On the one hand, since last year India operates an own developed first nuclear powered SSBN (INS Arihant, see our “Flotsam” of March 2012), and it has received at the end of 2011 the Russian “Akula”-Class SSGN “Nerpa” and commissioned it in March 2012 as INS “Chakra” as result of a 10-year-Lease-Agreement costing 1 Bill. USD. On the other hand, attempts to go fast for a second Lease-Agreement have failed so far since Russia asks for much higher leasing rates as for submarine No. 1.

In addition, there seems to be no progress for the project “75-I”, which is the purchase of up to 6 conventional submarines, however, being the first of such SSKs with air independent propulsion, as the international invitation to bid announced for 2013 has not been placed yet, where submarine constructors such as TKMS, DNCS and Rosoboronexport for the Russian shipyards would be potential bidders (see our “Flotsam” of March 2013).


The Saga about an alleged German U-boat wreckage in Labrador continues

We have reported in our “Flotsam”-issues of September and December 2012 about the media news spread since 25 July 2012 that speculate about a possible discovery of an alleged wreckage of a Kriegsmarine U-boat near Muskrat Falls on the bottom of the Churchill River in Labrador, Canada, with the place of the discovery in the roughly 20 meters deep river to be some 100 km away from the open Atlantic Ocean. Although it became somewhat quiet about this piece of news afterwards, peculiar stories pop up occasionally about German U-boats having operated close to the Canadian coasts and even inside bays and bights as well as up rivers, eagerly cultivated by the media.

Some of these stories derived from true events, such as the failed evacuation operation by U 262 between 01 and 06 May 1943 off the Prince Edward Island to support the escape of German PoWs, or U 573 on 23 Oct 1943 and its successful delivery of an unmanned weather station (WFL 26 “Kurt”) in Labrador. The vast majority of these stories are in parts wild claims, often based on muddled memories of self-proclaimed eye witnesses, or by taking fictitious novels for granted eventually. By far the best expert on the true events in WW II off and in Canada remains our friend from Canada, Prof. Michael Hadley, and his well researched book “U-boats against Canada”, published 1990 in Toronto.

On 12 Sep 2013 the turbulences of 2012 around the alleged wreckage of a German U-boat deep inside the landmass of Labrador has seen another addition. The Canadian political activist Brad Cabana, whose name punched in at Google brings up a vast amount of hits about this dazzling personality, has now come forward with another story. Being a fierce opponent of the hydroelectric dam project nearby the place of discovery of the alleged wreckage, he turned public by claiming to have identified a German U-boat after he had thoroughly studied the images of a side-scanning sonar which seem to show shapes of U-boat parts. He actually wrote to us that he is sure the wreckage to be the remains of the Kriegsmarine Type IX C U-boat U 184. Fact is that while executing its first combat patrol under the command of Kapitänleutnant Günter Dangschaft the U-boat was declared missing as of 21 Nov 1942 at about 49 degrees North and 45 degrees West, which is at least 450 nautical miles away from Labrador. Now, the status “Missing in Action” for this U-boat has to hold out to prove that it actually did sail to Labrador under mysterious circumstances, to then proceed up river some 100 km along the Churchill River, until it sank there after a severe explosion on board. We are really looking forward how this story will develop.


Vietnam´s new Submarine Flotilla

Widely published, Vietnam ordered in 2009 in Russia 6 submarines of the “Kilo II”-Class (Project 636M, also known as “Varshavyanka”-Class) including crew training and establishment of a submarine base for an alleged sum of 2 Bill. USD. Since, construction of these submarines is underway at the Admiralty Shipyard at St. Petersburg, Russia. The delivery of the submarines shall be completed by 2016. Names for the 6 submarines are said to be: Ha Noi (HQ-182)/ Ho Chi Minh City (HQ-183)/ Hai Phong (HQ-184)/ Da Nang (HQ-185)/ Khanh Hoa (HQ-186) und Ba Ria-Ving Tau (HQ-187).

The first submarine for the Navy of Vietnam was laid on keel in St Petersburg in 25 August 2010, and it was launched on 28 August 2012. Then, the submarine went through extensive sea trials, with the Vietnamese crew doing on-the-job training as of April 2013. The second submarine was laid on keel on 28 September 2011, to be launched on 28 December 2012. Also, this submarine has gone through its sea trials since.

Two more submarines are under construction, with submarine No. 3 for the Vietnamese Navy being launched meanwhile. Earlier reports about the formal delivery of submarine No. 1 still in 2012 were premature. Now, the first two submarines at scheduled for delivery to the Navy of Vietnam in 2013, the transfer voyage is to be carried out in November 2013.

The diesel-electric submarines of the “Kilo II”-Class have a length of 73.8 m and a beam of 9.9 m, their displacement is about 2,300 t surfaced and 3,100 t submerged. The maximum diving depth is said to be 300 m, and the underwater speed is up to 20 kn. The main armament is composed of up to 18 torpedoes on board to be launched from 6 bow torpedo tubes. Alternatively, up to 24 mines can be taken on board. The crew is said to comprise some 52 men. The submarine is known for its excellent underwater parameter, in particular its advanced underwater signature makes any detections by sonar or other means extremely difficult.

With that, Vietnam improves its maritime capabilities in the region significantly. Countries like South Korea or Japan, but also China have already expressed their concerns about the future of the maritime balance in the region.


Annual safety report indicates severe problems with the older British submarines

The annual report 2012-2013 by the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator/ DNSR of the British Ministry of Defence (MoD UK) has caused some headlines in the media as it sheds some light on the safety on board the older nuclear powered submarines of the Royal Navy. The main reproaches of the report say that there were cracks observed in the reactor casing of the oldest nuclear powered submarines still being operated by the Royal Navy, i.e. the SSNs of the “Trafalgar”-Class, since these boats have been maintained in service longer than planned originally to enable a smooth transfer of the underwater capability to the new SSGN of the “Astute”-Class, which has been delayed meanwhile for years. Keeping in service the “Trafalgar”-Class submarines much longer means to act “potentially dangerous”. To increase the problems, the “blood-letting” of well trained nuclear engineering Officers and Petty Officer on board these submarines can hardly be compensated any longer, as they rather sign in jobs in the civil nuclear industry and economy which is much better paid and much better in line with the requirement of a normal family life.

The Royal Navy´s “Fleet Submarines” have experienced quite a number of incidents since being in service, some of them were rather serious ones involving their nuclear reactor system. Beginning in 1973, a total of 13 SSNs (6 of the “Swiftsure”-Class and 7 of the “Trafalgar”-Class) were commissioned, 5 of those are still in service. They now have clocked already a considerable service time, and the de-commissioning schedule dependent on the delivery of the new “Astute”-Class SSGN might extent their total service time well beyond 25 years. The data of commissioning were: HMS Tireless = 1985, HMS Torbay = 1987, HMS Trenchant = 1989, HMS Talent = 1990 and HMS Triumph = 1991. Currently, the data for de-commissioning scheduled for the SSNs are as follows: HMS Tireless 2013/ 2014, HMS Torbay = 2015, HMS Trenchant = 2017, HMS Talent = 2019 and HMS Triumph = 2022.

On the other hand, the delivery schedule of the new “Astute”-Class SSGNs, planned for a total of 7 units, is said to be as follows: HMS Astute has been commissioned on 27 Aug 2010, and HMS Ambush on 01 Mar 2013, four more SSGNs are under construction, i.e. HMS Artful as of 11 May 2005, HMS Audacious as of 24 Mar 2009, HMS Anson as of 14 Oct 2011 and HMS Agamemnon as of 18 Jul 2013, the construction of the 7th SSGN, HMS Ajax, still needs to receive budget approval. Obviously, in light of the experiences gained by the delivery of the first two submarines there are no official statements yet about the planning dates for the commissioning of SSGNs No. 3 to 6. Only, the final in service moment for all six SSGNs is announced to be 2022. This would mean for HMS Triumph, the last of the older “Trafalgar”-Class SSNs, a total service time of about 31 years.