VADM KN Sushil (Retd) on Sindhurakshak incident

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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, South Asia, Technology transfer, Terrorism, Weapons and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to VADM KN Sushil (Retd) on Sindhurakshak incident

  1. RV says:

    I have no doubt that VAdm Sushil was a first-rate professional when it came to submarine operations. However, his statement that sabotage is an “open and shut case” is alarming. In fact, sabotage opens a Pandora’s box. it’s a known fact that the stricken submarine upgraded to a Project-836EKMS type with a land attack capability. It’s no secret that this capability is a cause for great concern to certain countries, most notably Pakistan. Despite all the lip-flapping about the Indian SLBM’s, these CURRENTLY form the only sub-based land attack capability India has.

    What if the submarine’s fire and command control computer was infected with a virus like Stuxnet directly accessing the computers chip set , which erroneously gave the order to the firing mechanism of the torpedoes or the Klub-S/N cruise missiles to arm? I dare say that this would involve the active participation of Indian naval personnel, and anybody who wishes to challenge this theory is respectfully pointed out to the “War Room Leak” incident..

    If so, this is the third such incident of recent vintage in the Indian strategic programs which points a finger in that direction. In fact, even less sophisticated penetrations/infections could be triggered off from the quay-side by RF or microwave (the manipulation of EVM’s using cell phones being a crude but fairly accurate analogy). In military intelligence, there’s an old saying incorrectly attributed to Ian Fleming – “First time it is Chance, Second time it is Coincidence, Third time if is ENEMY ACTION”. I personally doubt whether any information relevant to this line of thought can be retrieved from the stricken submarine, given the extent of the damage. This then raises further questions as to how far have such infections penetrated within the Indian system, and what are the corrective measures to be taken ASAP.

    The fault lies squarely at the doorstep of bogus organizations like the NTRO, who have abdicated their original mandate, and have instead concentrated on tapping the telephones of opposition politicians and Quixotic ventures like looking for traces of “saffron terrorists”. Frankly, I doubt if there’s a single person in these quack organizations who could even describe the structure of a virus/penetration like Stuxnet, let alone discuss its underlying statistical physics.

    Further, it is known that the Bombay naval base has no anti-submarine, UUV, frogman protection worth mentioning. What if one of the above stated means was the cause of the disaster? This would be easier to figure out from the wreckage, though most of the traces of the source of the explosion would now have been washed away. Further, given the proliferation of missiles and explosives of most types in the world black-market, it isn’t difficult for a competent agency like the ISI to procure a missile/explosive which could mask the actual perpetrators.

    I hope this comment gives food for thought to those who discount sabotage.

  2. RV says:

    CORRECTED AND EXPANDED COMMENT
    __________________________________

    I have no doubt that V. Adm. Sushil was a first-rate professional when it came to submarine operations. However, his statement that sabotage is an “open and shut case” is alarming. In fact, the issue of sabotage opens a Pandora’s box. it’s a known fact that the stricken submarine was upgraded to a Project-836EKMS type with a land attack capability. It’s no secret that this capability is a cause for great concern to certain countries, most notably Pakistan. Despite all the lip-flapping about the Indian SLBM’s, these boats CURRENTLY form the only sub-based land attack capability India has, given that the Indian crew are still in the process of familiarizing themselves with conducting combat operations with the Akula.

    What if the submarine’s fire and command control computer was infected with a virus/intrusion like Stuxnet directly accessing the computers chip set, which sympathetically gave the unauthorized order to the firing mechanism of the torpedoes or the Klub-S/N cruise missiles to prematurely arm? I dare say that this would involve the active participation of Indian naval personnel, and anybody who wishes to challenge this theory is respectfully pointed out to the “War Room Leak” incident. If the PMO can be penetrated quite thoroughly, what is so sacrosanct about any other organization?

    If so, this is the third such incident of recent vintage in the Indian strategic/military programs which gives credence to this school of thought. In fact, even less sophisticated penetrations/infections could be triggered off from the quay-side by RF or microwave (the manipulation of EVM’s using cell phones being a crude but fairly accurate analogy). In military intelligence, there’s an old saying incorrectly attributed to Ian Fleming – “First time it is Chance, Second time it is Coincidence, Third time if is ENEMY ACTION”. I personally doubt whether any information relevant to this line of thought can be retrieved from the stricken submarine, given the extent of the damage. This then raises further questions as to how far have such infections penetrated within the Indian systems, and what are the corrective measures to be taken ASAP?

    The fault lies squarely at the doorstep of bogus organizations like the NTRO, who have abdicated their original mandate, and have instead concentrated on tapping the telephones of opposition politicians and Quixotic ventures like looking for traces of “Saffron Terrorism”. Frankly, I doubt if there’s a single person in these quack organizations who could even describe the structure, functionality, and operations of a virus/penetration like Stuxnet, let alone analyze its underlying statistical physics.

    Further, it is known that the Bombay naval base has no anti-submarine, UUV, frogman protection (such as anti-submarine nets, etc…) worth mentioning. What if one of the above stated means was the cause of the disaster? This would be easier to figure out from the wreckage, though most of the traces of the source of the explosion would now have been washed away. Further, given the proliferation of missiles and explosives of most types in the world black-market, it is not difficult for a competent agency like the ISI to procure a missile/explosive which could mask origins of the actual perpetrators either through this source or through some other entity sympathetic to its “cause”.

    I hope this comment gives food for thought to those who discount sabotage as being a very possible cause for this disaster. Given that the Bombay naval dockyard is geographically surrounded by persons whose sympathies lie with forces dedicated to the destruction of the Indian State, it is imperative that all naval assets be located to other and safer locations ASAP.

    • K N Sushil says:

      I said that the sabotage theory is most appealing because it makes for an open and shut case. I did not say that it was sabotage. or that I subscribe to that theory
      Sushil

      • RV says:

        Actually, sabotage *is a likely candidate*, and with due respects I’m amazed you’ve taken that option off the table. If so (sabotage via system intrusion), given the arguments I’ve outlined, it isn’t an open and shut case, but one that will stay open and remain so for a very long time. Specifically, if it is a virus intrusion, one never knows how far and how deep it has spread, how many forms/mutations are there, etc. There just isn’t the trained manpower in India to even fathom the extent of the damage that can be caused.

        It’s only now, people in India are beginning to hear of Stuxnet (within the context of the Iranian centrifuge plant). Note I emphasize “hear of”. But Stuxnet is a thing of the past, and there are newer and deadlier forms around and being designed! Most people who should know do not realize that there have been two prior incidents involving different programs that have suffered damage which points in that direction. If its physical sabotage, then the appropriate measures need to be taken. Anyway, for God’s sake, get all the naval assets away from Bombay for starters. Otherwise, you might need an entire armada of salvage vessels!

      • RV says:

        Adm. Sushil, let me put it in a different manner. There is a choice of catastrophes that may have occurred. They range from the mundane (a plain accident), to the more conspiratorial (physical sabotage), to the most exotic but certainly possible (sabotage via system intrusion). The location of the tragedy and the state of the debris makes it very difficult (read perhaps impossible) to pin anything down, now or ever. This makes taking any option off the table equivalent to limiting the scope of inquiry, and thereby affecting your preparedness for a future event.

        It is a known fact that India is being targeted and with increasing intensity for system intrusions. As a respected naval officer and a submariner, you were trained to deal with the unexpected. What if it indeed was a system intrusion? As a person who has analyzed more situations than most people have crossed the street, I can tell you that if I were the CNS I would publicly and categorically state that sabotage is not a cause only if (i) I had adequate reasons to believe that it was, (ii) I had identified to a certain degree of certainty the offending nation, and (iii) that plans are being drawn up and arrangements being made to ensure that in the next (say) few months the entire crew of two submarines of the offending nation will be “swimming with the fishes”. Till then, NO OPTION is off the table.

      • RV says:

        It should be “sleeping with the fishes” and not “swimming”. Apologies for the incorrect term/usage.

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