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From Foxtrot to Scorpene, INS Kalvari is Reborn

Despite being hit by Scorpene scam, commissioning of INS Kalvari is a commendable feat for the Indian Naval Service.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the commissioning ceremony of naval submarine INS Kalvari to the Indian Navy in Mumbai, 14 December, 2017.
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In anticipation of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Indian denizens of the deep, my earlier article had referred to the Scorpene class submarine. Now that her trials have been successfully concluded, the prime minister is scheduled to commission the first among the Kalvari-class submarine. The golden jubilee of the Submarine Arm was celebrated at Vishakhapatnam with much fanfare on 8 December, which was preceded by presentation of Colours by the President.

President Ram Nath Kovind releasing the commemorative stamp on INS Kalvari in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh on 7 December 2017.
President Ram Nath Kovind releasing the commemorative stamp on INS Kalvari in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh on 7 December 2017.
(Photo: PTI)

History of Kalvari

As is the tradition, Kalvari and her sister ships will be reborn. S50 is the pennant number of Kalvari. It so happened that the golden jubilee of the Submarine Arm preceded the commissioning by six days. Consequently during the life of this submarine, her commissioning date cannot be forgotten easily. Such coincidences are rare in history.

The original Kalvari was a Foxtrot class submarine of the former Soviet Union. Here too, there is a tale worth mentioning.

Given the long acquisition process that is endemic to decision-making in India, we had approached the UK in the early 1960s to provide us our first submarine. Our consanguineous neighbour on the West had beaten us, owing to her close association with the US.

PNS Ghazi, their first submarine, albeit second hand, was operational by 1963. She was capable of deployment for long, having gone around the Cape of Good Hope for an upgrade to Turkey in 1968. Perhaps that was the main reason for deploying her off at Vishakhapatnam during the 1971 war. That she sank just outside Vizag is now part of our maritime history.

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Soviet Union Had Stepped in to Rescue India

A hand-picked Indian submarine crew was deputed to the UK in 1964, in anticipation of procuring the British Oberon class submarine. Mr SB Chavan, the then defence minister, was negotiating with the US and UK. The Americans flatly refused to provide naval hardware to India. The British, due to the downscaling of their own Navy, were unable to provide soft loans for the Oberon class.

It was at this stage that the Soviet Union stepped in to rescue India, and the rest is history. Kalvari was the first among eight Foxtrot class submarines to be commissioned into the Indian Naval Service in December 1967.

A view of the first Scorpene submarine Kalvari which was delivered to the Indian Navy at the Mazagon Dock Ltd shipyard in Mumbai on 21 September 2017.
A view of the first Scorpene submarine Kalvari which was delivered to the Indian Navy at the Mazagon Dock Ltd shipyard in Mumbai on 21 September 2017.
(Photo: IANS)
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Those who proudly manned these Soviet-built sturdy machines, often spoke of the near perfect safety standards of the boat through inbuilt redundancies that kept her afloat during several emergency-like situations. Among the Foxtrot submarines built and operated first by the Soviets, later by Russians and six international customers, only one was lost to fire and explosion.

Having learnt to operate the Foxtrots under combat conditions too, our submariners graduated to the German SSK and the Russian EKM or Kilo class submarines with great ease.

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Inordinate Delay in Project

The new Kalvari has been built by the Mazagaon Dock in Mumbai as part of a contract with the DCNS of France. Although the yard had gathered invaluable experience from the Germans when two submarines of German origin (SSK) were built, the entire trained manpower was lost due to the termination of the project following alleged corruption in the deal.

The French stepped in two decades later, but the project suffered inordinate delays due to contractual discrepancies. Consequently, the force level of operational submarines witnessed depletion.

Kalvari commenced her trials when its very fate was under a cloud, after the allegations were leveled that confidential parameters related to design were leaked due to competing commercial interests. Reportedly, investigations have revealed that vital parameters have not been compromised.

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Will Indigenous Plans See the Light of Day?

Given this background, commissioning of Kalvari is a long awaited event that should bring relief to this professional arm of the navy. But that is just one part of the story.

As early as in 1999, the navy had submitted a submarine building programme that needed a second line of production in order to sustain the existing force levels, as also to maintain a credible operational profile of the conventional force.

That plan has languished for almost two decades. Needless to say that long gestation periods for decision making and timeline of manufacturing in India can only lead to history repeating itself. Deja vu?

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(The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command. He can be reached @scsbangara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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