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Navy gets INS Sindhukirti back

With its return, the Navy will have 11 operational submarines

Ajai Shukla  |  New Delhi 

Indian Navy planners heaved a sigh of relief on Friday at the return of a frontline Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhukirti, which has been missing from the operational fleet through a nine-year "refit" (overhaul) in Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL).

The HSL chief, Rear Admiral (Retired) Nikunj Mishra, confirmed to Business Standard that INS Sindhukirti sailed out from the shipyard at 10:20 am on Thursday and returned to harbour safely on Friday.

"The crew noted no defects, only some minor observations that will be addressed," said Mishra. INS Sindhukirti's refit took so long that many defence experts believed the vessel would never return to operational service. After another of the Navy's eight Kilo-class submarines, INS Sindhurakshak, sank in an unexplained explosion on August 14, 2013, the Sindhukirti's absence was felt even more keenly.

With its return the Navy will have 11 operational submarines. Besides seven Kilo-class submarines of the so-called Sindhughosh-class; there are also four HDW submarines, referred to as the Shishumar-class.

While HSL has been severely criticised for taking nine years to refit Sindhukirti, Business Standard revealed (September 2, 2014, "Russia delayed sub refit to weaken shipyard?") that the refit might have been deliberately prolonged by Russian experts to ensure that future Indian submarine refits were entrusted to Russian shipyards rather than to HSL.

Earlier Kilo-class refits in Russian shipyard Zvezdochka took an average of two and a half years each, and cost hundreds of crore rupees each. Zvezdochka experts who supervised the Sindhukirti's refit at HSL knew they were assisting a potential competitor, which would indigenise the submarine overhaul business.

As Business Standard reported, each parameter of work that Zvezdochka experts ordered HSL to carry out on the Sindhukirti was several multiples of the work that the Russian shipyard had done while earlier overhauling INS Sindhughosh in Russia. For example, the most time-consuming and expensive work during a refit involves replacing damaged hull plates. Zvezdochka replaced only three square metres of hull plates while refitting Sindhughosh in Russia. But for Sindhukirti, the Russian experts ordered 39 square metres - 13 times as much - hull plating to be replaced.

INS Sindhukirti's refit has involved extensive modernisation. Like submarines refitted in Russia, its torpedo tubes were modified to fire Klub missiles at surface targets. But Sindhukirti also got additional capabilities: A MCA inertial navigation suite, a Palady nerve system, and a Pirit ship control console. Bharat Electronics Ltd has provided an indigenous Ushus sonar and a modernised CCS Mark II communications suite. If Russia's aim was to scuttle further refit orders to HSL, that has been achieved. In October the defence ministry cleared a Rs 4,800-crore refit for six submarines, with two each being refitted in Zvezdochka; in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai; and in Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

HSL will have to remain content with building two midget submarines, an order worth Rs 2,000 crore that the ministry cleared in February. Known as "strategic operations vessels" or SOVs, these small vessels ferry naval commandoes to enemy coastlines.

First Published: Sat, May 23 2015. 00:27 IST