This is what ‘desi’ broadcast TV channels like HEADLINES TODAY have been practicing over the past 48 hours. For instance, certain news-anchors of this channel have claimed that “all existing Type 877EKM Kilo-class SSKs are in a decrepit state, they are not seaworthy, that most of their 25-year shelf-lives and life-cycles are over,” and therefore they are all “floating coffins”. Facts, however, tell another story altogether. For, it is downright criminal to claim that these SSKs are using batteries with expired shelf-lives. In the case of INS Sindhuratna S-59, which recently underwent an unscheduled short-refit, it was using the 240 units of batteries (costing Rs.11 crores in all and possessing 40% of residual life) that had been removed from INS Sindhukesari S-60 since the latter is presently undergoing a short-refit.
To date, all eight surviving Kilo-class SSKs use batteries made by EXIDE Industries and such batteries, in production since the early 1990s, have also been exported to Algeria and Iran. EXIDE also supplies batteries for the four IN-operated Class 209/Type 1500 SSKs.
About five years ago, another India-based battery manufacturer—HBL Power Systems Ltd (see http://www.hbl.in/defence.asp)--which by then was already supplying batteries for IN-owned torpedoes of Russian and Italian origin as well as for all DRDO-developed tactical and strategic missiles, approached Indian Navy HQ and requested it to certify its newly-developed submarine batteries for usage. When IN HQ refused, HBL filed a case in the Delhi High Court against the IN. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) then told Justice Katju (who was then hearing the case) that since the IN already had a long-term contract with EXIDE for procuring submarine batteries, it will not consider a competitive procurement scenario. Furthermore, since the IN had only a single set of batteries on hand that was meant for installation on board INS Sindhurakshak S-63 (which was then due to proceed to Zvezdochka State Machine-Building Enterprise at Severodvinsk for her medium-refit), it could not spare this set for the sake of holding competitive field evaluation trials along with the set of batteries built by HBL. Justice Katju, however, stated that this was simply not on and consequently ruled in favour of HBL. The MoD then filed an appeal with the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court’s ruling and argued that any delays encountered in the delivery of batteries meant for INS Sindhurakshak will only severely compromise national security. Fortunately for the MoD, the Supreme Court quashed Justice Katju’s earlier ruling and delivered a verdict in favour of the MoD, much to the IN’s relief.
Coming now to the present-day state of the eight surviving Type 877EKM SSKs, Russia’s Rubin Central Design Bureau for Marine Engineering has confirmed to me that the authorised total technical service life of each such SSK is not 20 years or 26 years as has been claimed by several retired IN officials over the past few days, but 35 years. Furthermore, each such SSK undergoes only one medium refit (inclusive of a mid-life upgrade) once after completing 13 years of service, and on its 26th year in service, it will undergo a service life-extension programme (SLEP) or a long-refit (inclusive of further upgrades) so that it will remain in service for a total period of 35 years.
INS Sindhughosh S-55, whose keel was laid on May 29, 1983, was launched on July 29, 1985 and was commissioned on November 25, 1985 and it was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 2002 and 2005. INS Sindhudhvaj S-56, whose keel was laid on April 1, 1986, was launched on July 27, 1986 and was commissioned on November 25, 1986. INS Sindhuraj S-57, which was commissioned on September 2, 1987, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 1999 and 2001. INS Sindhuvir S-58, which was commissioned on December 25, 1987, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 1997 and 1999. INS Sindhuratna S-59, which was commissioned on August 14, 1988, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 2001 and 2003. INS Sindhukesari S-60, which was commissioned on October 29, 1988, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 1999 and 2001. INS Sindhukirti S-61, which was commissioned on October 30, 1989, has been declared as a writeoff. INS Sindhuvijay S-62, which was commissioned on October 27, 1990, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between 2005 and 2007. INS Sindhurakshak S-63, which was commissioned on October 2, 1997, was subjected to a medium-refit and was also upgraded to Project 08773 standard between August 2010 and January 2013INS. Next in line for a medium-refit and upgrading to Project 08773 standard by the Zvezdochka State Machine-Building Enterprise is INS Sindhushastra S-64, which was commissioned on May 16, 2000.
Between 1997 and 1999, INS Sindhuvir was retrofitted with the LAMA-EKM AICS integrated console and the PIRIT control system, along with a loop antenna for VLF communications that was sourced from France’s NEREIDES. These were also installed on board INS Sindhuratna between 2000 and 2002, in addition to the Apassionata-EKM.1 integrated navigation system (using SAGEM's SIGMA 40 RLG-INS) and the Calibre-PLE fire-control system associated with the Club-S family of precision-guided munitions (3M-14E land-attack cruise missile and 3M-54E anti-ship cruise missile).
Between 2002 and 2005, INS Sindhughosh incorporated all of the above, plus the DRDO-developed and BEL-made USHUS cylindrical-array bow-mounted sonar, CCS Mk2 composite communications system and a SIRS radiation monitoring system). Between 2005 and 2008, INS Sindhuvijay incorporated all of the abov e-mentioned enhancements along with a DRDO-developed and BEL-built ‘Porpoise’ ESM suite, MCA external antenna, York-built cooling machines, WAAS-built C-310 torpedo countermeasures and their BDL-built dispensers, and Sulzer-built high-pressure air compressors). An identical fitment was carried out on INS Sindhurakshak (containing 12 India-origin systems installed) between 2010 and 2013 by Zvezdocka, which deployed more than 200 workers in three shifts to complete each of the refits in two years.
Thus, of the five Type 877EKM SSKs upgraded so far to Project 08773 standard at an aggregate cost of Rs1,560 crore (or an average of US$156 million per unit), four of them were armed with 3M-14E and 3M-54E missiles.
For helping the IN’s naval dockyards to undertake the periodic short-refits, SUDOEXPORT has facilitated and overseen the ToT to several India-based MRO companies, some of which are highlighted below.
INS Sindhukirti was ripped open in 2004 without Russian approval/licence by the Vizag-based Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL). While that was the easy part, putting it back together was far more complex and beyond the capability of HSL. By 2008 the INS Sindhukirti had become the IN’s ‘dry-dock queen’. HSL had signed a contract on October 3, 2006 with IN for the medium-refit plus upgrade of this SSK. In this regard, contracts were concluded with Rosoboronswervice India and SUDOEXPORT for material supplies as well as for turn-key modernisation works. As per the planned schedule, HSL was to have: completed the SSK’s degutting by May 2007, completed blasting on the entire hull structure for defect survey by February 2008, completed the removal of hard-patches from all six compartments, commissioned two pipe-bending machines, completed qualifying HSL’s welders to take up repairs on hull structures, and receive all related technical documentation from Russia by May 2008. Officially, INS Sindhukirti, for whose medium-refit plus upgrade the IN had already paid Rs650 crore, was to re-enter service back in 2010. But till this day the medium-refit work—where the SSK is stripped of all equipment, her hull inspected for wear-and-tear and machinery replaced—awaits completion and the IN therefore has classified this SSK as a permanent writeoff.
As part of the SLEP for the remaining eight Type 877EKM SSKs, the IN in future plans to equip them with thin-line towed-array sonars as well as new-generation optronic periscopes.
The IN’s Class 209/Type 1500 SSKs were ordered on December 11, 1981. The first two SSKs (S-44 Shishumar and S-45 Shankush) were built by HDW and were inducted into service in September and November 1986, respectively. The remaining two (S-46 Shalki and S-47 Shankul) were licence-built by MDL and entered service in February 1992 and May 1994.
All four SSKs subsequently underwent mid-life refits from 1999 to 2010 during which they were equipped with ATLAS Elektronik’s ISUS-90 combat management system, CSU-90 cylindrical active/passive bow-mounted sonar, passive planar flank arrays and intercept arrays (for providing warning against approaching torpedoes), passive ranging array, a three-dimensional mine and obstacle avoidance sonar; along with Alenia Sistemi Subacquei’s C-310 submarine-fired torpedo decoy dispensers and a self-noise monitoring system. The hunt is now on for reelable thin-line towed-array sonars, optronic periscopes and anti-ship cruise missiles to be installed on board the four SSKs when they undergo SLEP so that their service-lives will be extended for enabling them to remain in service till 2025.
Thus, while the IN will by 2018 be able to muster eight Project 08773 SSKs and retain the last of them in service will 2027, the last of the four Class 209/Type 1500 SSKs will remain in service till 2029.
Let us now turn to the issues of SSK availability by factoring in the SSK deployment-cycles that are equally divided between periodic repairs at port, sea-trials and actual operational patrols. It is estimated that of the 13 submarines presently available to the IN (inclusive of the INS Chakra SSGN), no more than eight are available during peacetime as of now. This is woefully inadequate when one takes into account the steadily increasing operational tempo of the IN’s undersea warfare arm since the late 1990s. For, till the early 1990s, the SSKs—aided by LRMR/ASW platforms like the Tu-142M—undertook patrols only for: monitoring the twice-a-year naval exercises conducted by the navies of Pakistan, monitoring the movements of out-of-area naval warships belonging to the US and China, and taking part in twice-a-year naval exercises conducted by the IN’s eastern and western fleets. Since the late 1990s, however the scope of surveillance missions to be undertaken have increased manifold in order to monitor: the supply of WMD-related hardware by sea from China and North Korea to Pakistan and Iran, the movements of the PLA Navy’s various task-forces that have been deployed to the Horn of Africa for conducting anti-piracy escort missions since 2007, and the annual exercises conducted by the expanding navies of Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan. In addition to all this the IN’s submarine arm has to be committed to various annual bilateral exercises that it now routinely conducts with the navies of the US, France, the UK, Indonesia, Japan and Singapore and on top of all this are the two of the IN’s own exercises conducted every year. To cope with all this is clearly beyond the capabilities of the eight SSKs that can be spared for such a hectic operational schedule. And this is why the IN desperately the six Scorpene SSKs and in the longer term, no less than 12 SSNs.