Reproduced below are some thoughts of importance on the Sindhurakshak incident emailed me by a veteran submariner, VADM KN Sushil, who retired as Flag-Officer-Commanding-in-C, Southern Naval Command:
1 On the night of 13/14 just before midnight two explosions rocked the submarine and a huge ball of fire escaping from the conning tower hatch, the only hatch that is left open in harbour, lit the night sky. Briefly thereafter the submarine sank alongside. The 18 crew members who formed the duty watch were missing. The nature of the incident would immediately suggest that of the 18 only few who may have been in the aft-most compartments would have had any chance of survival. Normally, in harbour nobody goes to the aft compartments except for periodic rounds. The nature of the incident, the loss of the submarine alongside and the tragic loss of lives of those eighteen ill fated crew members makes it vital for the Navy to find the exact cause which triggered the accident.
2. It is very easy in such incidents to jump to conclusions and air some pet theories. Sabotage, problems with the modifications, hydrogen explosion or some handling accident that set off the chain of events are some of the pet theories floating—the most appealing being the sabotage theory because it makes this incident an open and shut case. To find the truth is vital because the navy needs to determine for itself not only the causes of this incident but put in place procedures and precautions that would ensure that such incidents never recur. The men also need to know that we can determine the fault lines and set them right so that they have the confidence to continue to work in the potentially dangerous environment that exists on board any submarines.
3, From available information, the submarine was being prepared for an operational deployment and was expected to sail early in the morning. The entire crew was scheduled to arrive on board at about 0300 hrs to prepare the submarine for sea. The full outfit of 18 weapons consists of a mixture of missiles, oxygen torpedoes and electric torpedoes with 6 stowed in the tubes and 12 on racks in the torpedo compartment. Normally weapons kept on the racks are not “armed”. This means that mechanisms and devices that are required to cause the High Explosives in the war heads to explode are not placed thus rendering them safe. If we take into consideration that only two explosions were heard it would be apparent that the remaining 16 warheads each containing approximately 250 Kgs of HE did not explode. This inherent stability and safety of warhead design played a vital role in mitigating collateral damage. Of the two explosions heard the first or the “trigger” could not have been a warhead explosion. Taking into consideration that heat and flame intensity would have been considerably higher after the second explosion and that 16 explosions were not heard the second explosion also could not have been a warhead explosion. Therefore prima facie the trigger explosion appears to be from the weapon fuel—i.e. either oxygen from the torpedo or the booster of the missile. Anyhow what is important from a professional stand point is that apparently damaging explosions were caused only from the trigger source and the adjacent weapon. Other weapons do not appear to have contributed to the damage. The Board of Inquiry I am sure, will concentrate on these issues.
4. Normally an investigation will have recourse to various materials, log books and eyewitness accounts . In this incident the flame travel from the forward compartments to the control would have incinerated everything. Reconstructing the events that led to the accident would be difficult to say the least. Therefore the board will have to depend on advanced forensics to help it analyse the incident. Essentially this would entail chemical analysis of various materials to see if we can determine the nature of fuel that caused the burn. A lot of valuable evidence will lie in the debris of the fore ends. Much of this will be diluted by the sea water and most of it will be lost in the pumping out that will have to be done to bring the submarine to the surface. The board of inquiry will need to take advice from experts in forensic chemical and accident investigation to chalk out and plan a course of action to collect samples before it is too late.
5. The damage control design basis of the submarines provides for survival and maintenance of sufficient reserve of buoyancy when the pressure hull is breached and one compartment is fully flooded and two adjacent ballast tanks are destroyed. This is when the submarine is trimmed for neutral buoyancy. The submarine puts on a diving trim by flooding various tanks at sea to avoid the tanks from having dirty water that obtains in harbour. Therefore the submarine would have been 100 tons lighter than its normal diving trim. Despite this the submarine sank alongside. Nobody can provide a design basis that would allow floatation under conditions that existed on Sindhurakshak on that fateful night. What is worrying is that had the accident occurred any time later or at sea the death toll would have been devastating and the submarine would have been lost. The Navy does not have any submarine rescue capability. The Navy would have had no moral force to explain why the DSRV programme did not fruition even after 13 years. A lot of moral hot air was blown after the Kursk incident but we still do not have the capability.
6 . The Chief of Naval Staff said we will hope for the best and prepare for the worst. It is high time that we equipped ourselves to prepare for the worst but teach ourselves to ensure that we have the best.