TRAGEDY OF INS SINDHURATNA AND BEYOND : A VIEWPOINT
The existing shortages of 1,41,000-crore worth of arms and ammunition in the Army includes critical voids in bulletproof jackets and patkas, lack of which means avoidable loss and injury to soldiers. Of course, no artillery gun has been inducted into the
Post the tragic accident of INS Sindhuratna that resulted in the sacrifice of two young officers, major damage to the submarine and the resignation of Admiral D.K. Joshi, the Chief of Naval Staff, there is urgent need for not only refection but action. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, press reports revealed that a cinfidential report by the Indian Navy to the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister had brought out the critical state of the Navy’s fleet, particularly the Kilo class submarines. The series of accidents in the Navy in recent months included INS Sindhurakshak and INS Sindhuratna, both Kilo class submarines, the former’s tragedy in August 2013 having caused the death of 18 naval personnel.
It is not that Admiral Joshi resigned just because of the mishap of INS Sindhuratna. There was more loss of lives in case of INS Sindhurakshak and accidents are out of control of the Chief of Naval Staff; something that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) should have understood. But what must have been galling to the Admiral perhaps was that with modernisation of the naval fleet stonewalled at every stage by the government, he could do little to stop his personnel being harmed further, forced to sail in outdated submarines in serious need of upgrades.
The fact is that most of the Kilo class submarines have long outlived their service lives. But the Navy has been forced to keep upgrading and refitting them to keep its offensive potential strong. However, there is a limit to all this especially when even decisions of refitment and upgrades are logjammed by the bureaucracy at every stage. Time is hardly linked to criticality of equipment and therefore important decisions are left in limbo.
Why our indigenous submarine plans have been glutted were well explained by Anil Manibhai Naik, Chairman and Managing Director of L&T, in a letter to the Prime Minister in 2011 saying, “Defence Production [MoD] Joint Secretaries and Secretaries of Defence Ministry are on the Boards of all PSUs – sickest of sick units you can think of who cannot take out one conventional submarine in 15 years now with the result that the gap is widening between us and China and bulk of the time we resort to imports out of no choice. The defence industry which could have really flowered around very high technological development and taken India to the next level of technological achievement and excellence is not happening.”
What has been surprising in all this is that the MoD appears to have closed the issue having accepted the resignation of Admiral Joshi instantaneously avoiding culpability in the utter lack of modernisation of the armed forces. INS Sindhuratna’s batteries used up their life cycle in December 2012 but the submarine was forced to go for minor refit and continue on sea because of the depleted numbers of the Navy. It was still running on 15-month-old batteries. It could not get new batteries because procurement was delayed for more than those months by MoD.
It was on its first sea trial when the fire broke out due to the batteries. Yet the Defence Minister and the Defence Secretary, latter charged with the ‘Defence of India’ under Rules of Business of the Government of India, failed to share moral responsibility, whereas they should have both tendered their resignation. Similar are the cases of scores of the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots sacrificed flying obsolete MiG-21s that were aptly named ‘flying coffins’. Recently, Wing Commander Sanjeet Singh Kaila in his writ petition against the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the MoD, has submitted a 3D animation of 2005 MiG-21 crash to Delhi High Court to demonstrate how the accident took place.
The existing shortages of ` 1,41,000-crore worth of arms and ammunition in the Army includes critical voids in bullet-proof jackets and patkas, lack of which means avoidable loss and injury to soldiers. Of course, no artillery gun has been inducted into the Army in last three decades, 90 per cent of equipment of army air defence is obsolete, and the infantry is short of night vision, surveillance and communication equipment. No wonder, first time the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Defence has talked of shortages of soldiers in the army, which all these years was only in the officer category. The bottom line is that unless accountability is brought among the bureaucrats and the Defence Minister himself takes interest in accelerating the modernisation of the armed forces, the situation can turn extremely grave.
LT GENERAL (RETD) P.C. KATOCH