Some Indian naval officers suspect that the repeated accidents have resulted less from poor training than from the navy’s aging Russian equipment. “The Russian defense manufacturing system is decrepit, unreliable and corrupt,” Arun Prakash, a retired admiral, said. “The navy has to take a deep and hard look at its equipment.”
Indian Naval Chief Resigns After Submarine Accident
By GARDINER HARRIS and NEHA THIRANI BAGRI
February 26, 2014
NEW DELHI — India’s naval chief resigned on Wednesday after a Russian-made Indian submarine caught fire off the coast of Mumbai, injuring seven officers and leaving two missing. It was the 10th accident involving an Indian warship in seven months.
The submarine, Sindhuratna, was forced to surface after smoke was detected on board, the government said in a statement. Seven crew members were airlifted from the submarine and admitted to a hospital in Mumbai, where they were in stable condition, said Narendra Vispute, a spokesman for the Indian Navy. Two other crew members were missing, “and all efforts are in progress to locate them,” the statement said.
After the accident, Adm. D. K. Joshi, chief of the Indian naval staff, submitted his resignation, “taking moral responsibility for the accidents and incidents which have taken place during the past few months,” the statement said. The government accepted his resignation and will appoint a new naval chief.
The fire on the Sindhuratna came six months after another Russian-made submarine, the Sindhurakshak, exploded and sank while docked in Mumbai, killing 18 crew members, the worst maritime loss in India in four decades.
India’s navy is widely considered the most professional of the country’s three military services, but the mounting toll from accidents has tarnished that image. At a news conference this month, Defense Minister A. K. Antony expressed confidence that the navy was correcting any deficiencies.
“There are some failures, but on the whole, the military — whether army, navy or air force — they are taking strong actions,” he said.
The Sindhuratna is a Kilo-class diesel submarine commissioned in 1988 that was berthed next to the Sindhurakshak when the Sindhurakshak sank in August. At the time, the Sindhuratna was thought to have sustained only minor damage.
Some Indian naval officers suspect that the repeated accidents have resulted less from poor training than from the navy’s aging Russian equipment.
“The Russian defense manufacturing system is decrepit, unreliable and corrupt,” Arun Prakash, a retired admiral, said. “The navy has to take a deep and hard look at its equipment.”
The Indian Navy has been trying to break its dependence on Russian equipment for years, but its efforts have not been entirely successful. A cooperative effort with France and Spain to build a new class of conventional submarine called the Scorpene has been delayed, and the first submarines are not expected to be ready before 2015.
India is building dozens of other warships, but many of the projects rely on Russian equipment. And a refurbished aircraft carrier that India recently purchased from Russia has had its own share of problems, including breakdowns in its boilers.
At any given time, India has just five or six operational submarines, considered far too few to guard the country’s extensive coastline.
“Delays in the acquisition of new submarines, coupled with a deficient and aging fleet of submarines, are taking its toll on the operational capabilities of the Indian Navy,” Sameer Patil, an associate fellow at Gateway House, a foreign policy think tank based in Mumbai, said in a statement.
India wants to play a substantial role in the changing naval dynamics of the Indian Ocean, where China has been increasingly assertive. But the recent accidents could hinder those efforts, said Deva Mohanty, a defense analyst.
“India is a major player in the regional maritime security construct,” Mr. Mohanty said. “So these kinds of accidents, both minor and major, are a concern.”
Gardiner Harris reported from New Delhi, and Neha Thirani Bagri from Mumbai, India. Hari Kumar contributed reporting from New Delhi.