THE MODERN ERA
The trusty Kalvari and Vela classes which were the backbone of the Indian Navy’s submarine force were designed in the late fifties, and were in service with the Soviet Navy since then. Since that period, there had been major advances in submarine technology, which made a qualitative difference to the operational capabilities of the submarine as a warfighting machine. It was clear to the Naval Higher Command that the ‘F’ Class was getting outdated, and steps would soon have to be initiated to modernise the submarine force, so that force development would be in step with contemporary technology.
The early Eighties saw efforts to modernise the submarine force being linked to the process of force development. The planners at Naval Headquarters chose to look at both Western as well as Soviet technologies for the new submarines. As a result of this policy, which met with Government approval, agreements were reached at approximately the same time with both Germany and the Soviet Union for new classes of boats that were to be inducted into the Indian Navy in the ensuing decade.
The contract with the German submarine – building conglomerate envisaged the procurement of four modern submarines of the HDW 1500 class, popularly referred to as SSKs. Two of these were to be built in German yards and two in MDL, with an option for two more. The contract with the German Firm was signed in December 1981, and the first batch of trainees left for Germany in the early part of the following year, under the overall charge of Captain DN Thukral.
The personnel deputed were broadly of three categories – the submarine overseeing teams, the designers, and the maintenance and operating crews. Once again our Indian Naval personnel distinguished themselves in a foreign land by their professionalism and devotion to duty. They mastered the new technology that the SSKs represented, and were able to ensure that the Indian requirement in both training and construction was met.
The first submarine of the class, INS Shishumar, was commissioned at Kiel, Federal Republic of Germany, on 22 Sep 1986, under the command of Commander PM Bhate. She arrived in India on 15 Feb 87, and this heralded the entry of our Submarine Arm into the modern era. Shishumar was followed two months later by her sister ship Shankush, under the command of Commander OP Sharma.
Meanwhile an agreement with the Soviet Union had been concluded for the purchase of eight "Kilo" class submarines. The crews for both the German as well as the Soviet built submarines had to be sent simultaneously to the respective countries, and the pressure on the Submarine Arm to provide crews was intense. The first ‘K’ class submarine, INS Sindhughosh, was commissioned in Riga, USSR, on 30 Apr 86, and arrived in India on 01 Sep 1986. The remaining submarines of this class followed in quick succession over the next five years, and once again the Navy was faced with the challenge of absorbing new technology in a short span of time with limited human and material resources.
The problems were not only those of material. Organisationally, the Navy had to gear itself to meeting the requirements of operations, maintenance, training and logistics, of three separate classes of submarines, and evolve a system which, while responsive to the needs of each, still ensured that the high standards demanded by submarining did not suffer in any way. The post of the Flag Officer Submarines (FOSM) was approved in1987 by the Government with Submarine Headquarters at Visakhapatanam. FOSM was to look after all policy aspects related to submarines. The heavy responsibility of setting up this organisation and taking over the reins of the Submarine Arm fell on the shoulder of Rear Admiral A Auditto, the first Flag Officer Submarines. With typical zeal he laid the foundation of a unified and comprehensive approach to all submarine policies.
The Government of India did not excercise the option for the fifth and sixth HDW submarines, and the strength of the SSK squadron thus remained at four.