Four Indian naval submarines, from both Sindhughosh (EKM) and Shishumar (HDW) classes, took part in the Indo-U.S. exercise, Indiaex-2012, held off Goa early this month where the compatibility of the submarine rescue system of the U.S. Navy with Indian Navy submarines was tested for the first time.
The fortnight-long exercise, meant to demonstrate the rescue of personnel from a disabled submarine, held special significance for the Indian Navy, which operates an ageing fleet of submarines but does not have a Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel (DSRV) of its own.
During the sea phase of the exercise, the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System (SRDRS) of the U.S. Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command was pressed into action to bring to safety Indian submariners holed up in Indian submarines simulating various distress scenarios. In all, four Indian submarines took the dive, one daily, during the mock-up.
Responding to the distress alert, a pressurised rescue module from the launch and recovery system fitted on board a non-military vessel was launched and manoeuvred to the required depth to mate with the forward hatches of the submarine in distress. Pressure inside the submarine and the rescue system was equalised before opening the hatch to effect the safe transfer of personnel.
The Indian submarines that took part in the exercise underwent minor modifications to be able to pair off with the pressurised module, which can secure up to two dozen personnel at a time.
INS Nireekshak, Indian Navy’s deep sea diving support vessel with an on-board submersible capsule called ‘Bell’, assisted in the conduct of the exercise providing safety back-up. It also documented the procedures key to developing interoperability with the U.S. Navy in submarine rescue operations.
Commander S.S. Sarna, Commanding Officer of Nireekshak that is based in the Southern Naval Command in Kochi, termed the interaction with the U.S. Navy in the niche field of submarine rescue a professionally satisfying experience.
While it has been toying with the idea of buying a couple of DSRVs for sometime now, the Indian Navy still has a lot of ground to cover in possessing a failsafe submarine rescue capability. At present, it relies a great deal on Russian-made pressurised escape suits in the Sindhughosh-class submarines and rescue spheres that can be punched out during trouble (as in fighter aircraft) in Shishumar-class submarines.
Nireekshak’s clearance divers operating out of ‘Bell’ could also be of help at limited depths.