Defence minister Arun Jaitley has hit the ground running. Within days of taking over as the country’s defence minister, Jaitley will be flying to Mumbai later this week to review the combat readiness of the Western Naval Command (WNC), a source said.
The WNC had witnessed some of the worst accidents involving leading Indian warships in recent months.
This is Jaitley's maiden visit after taking over as the defence minister. Jaitley, who also holds the charge of the finance and corporate affairs ministry, will commission two fast patrol vessels of the Indian Coast Guard on June 7 in Mumbai, HT has learnt.
Jaitley's Mumbai visit assumes significance as the salvage of INS Sindhurakshak, which blew up and sank last August, has entered a critical phase.
The onset of monsoons in Mumbai is likely to slow down efforts to retrieve the kilo-class submarine, as first reported by HT on May 20.
Navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan will accompany Jaitley. This will be Dhowan's second visit to Mumbai in less than three weeks. On May 19, he had visited the WNC to take stock of the salvage operations.
The navy had awarded a Rs 240-crore contract to a US-based firm in January to salvage the Russian-built submarine, one of the 10 kilo-class boats operated by the force. The navy’s priority is that the submarine be cleared of unexploded ordnance before the rains set in around June 10.
This will eliminate the risk of detonation. A navy official said, “The salvage of the submarine is in an advanced stage and it is likely to be retrieved within a month. The salvage firm was given a six-month deadline to get the boat out.”
Rendering the weapons aboard the boat safe will allow the salvagers to work more freely. Initial findings indicate that the mishap took place due to a torpedo blowing up in the weapons compartment.
It is suspected missiles and torpedoes were being loaded in the submarine when the mishap occurred. However, what exactly went wrong can be established only after the submarine is out.
The salvagers are slogging to make sections of the 2,300-tonne boat buoyant. Silt deposits would have made the warship heavier.
Pontoons are likely to be used to lift it. It is unclear whether the salvage firm will be able to retrieve the boat in one piece.
Jaitley’s Mumbai visit comes at a time when the navy is grappling with a decline in its underwater attack capabilities. A mishap aboard INS Sindhuratna on February 26, which led to Admiral DK Joshi’s resignation as navy chief, has knocked the submarine out of active duty for six months.
The accident — a cable fire triggered by a short circuit — had led to the death of two officers. The kilo-class boat is currently under repair at the naval dockyard in Mumbai.
As first reported by HT on April 10, a board of inquiry into the mishap recommended that three naval officers be tried by a court martial for lapses under their watch. A commodore responsible for carrying out trials on the submarine, its commanding officer (a commander) and a lieutenant commander are likely to face court martial. It could lead to loss of seniority, retirement benefits and even dismissal from service.
As first reported by HT on May 1, Dhowan is focusing on efforts to strengthen the navy’s undersea warfare capabilities to counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet.
The navy currently operates 13 submarines, compared to the 50-plus boats in the Chinese fleet. While Chinese submarines are growing in numbers and sophistication, India is grappling with an ageing fleet that has been involved in a number of mishaps.