Navy sailor dies in accident onboard under-construction nuclear submarine

Navy has ordered a Board of Inquiry into the incident

INS Arihant

A navy sailor has died in an accident onboard one of Indian Navy's under-construction nuclear submarines. Considering the secrecy of the project, the Navy has not divulged the name of the submarine.

The Incident happened at Navy's Vizag-based eastern naval command ship building centre jetty on April 1. 

Four Arihant class nuclear submarines are based at Vizag, while the first submarine INS Arihant was commissioned in August 2016. In 2017, the second boat of the Arihant class—the bigger, improved and better-armed INS Arighat—was launched and presently undergoing sea-trials. Remaining two submarines of the class are under construction. Naval sources expect that all four Arihant class submarines can be commissioned by 2023.

According to naval sources, 26-year-old sailor Paramajit Singh was on duty when accident happened in the boat.

"An incident of material failure happened onboard at Visakhapatnam on Wednesday. A sailor was grievously injured and taken to hospital. subsequently, he succumbed to the injuries," said a naval official. Later on, his body was handed over to the family. Since he died while performing duty, he was given full military honour funeral at his home town.

Meanwhile, a Board of Inquiry has been ordered by the Navy to investigate the cause of the incident.

Arihant class submarine, the nuclear-powered submarines with ballistic nuclear missiles (SSBNs), are meant for deterrence with its long legs. Naval experts believe that SSBNs are not meant for fighting wars, but to prevent wars and we need to have at least four of such submarines to have a 24x7 deterrence. However, India's plan to build six SSNs (attack submarine) with a displacement capacity of 6,000 tonnes is underway. 

In 2017, dedicating the boat to the nation as a Diwali gift, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said: “Arihant is an open warning to enemies of India and enemies of peace” and a “fitting response to nuclear blackmail”. With that, India joined another club where the same big five— the US, Russia, Britain, France and China—have been sitting.

INS Arihant, an SSBN category submarine, is both nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed. She is armed with 750km range K15 Sagarika nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. In future, she will get 3,500km (intermediate range) K4 ballistic missiles. 

Three of its sister ships of same class are getting ready in the Navy’s secret yard at Visakhapatnam as follow-on ships. And all of which will move around the depths of the waters close to China’s and Pakistan’s coast.

Navy’s fleet of attack submarines, all diesel-powered, has dwindled from an awesome 21 in the 1980s to just 14 at present. Worse still, at least half of the 15 available boats are old and creaking, and undergoing mid-life upgrade. It means India has just seven-eight submarines that are battle-ready at any given time, against 65 of the Chinese navy.

Ideally, the Navy needs at least 24 submarines to meet its 30-year submarine building plan, which was approved by the cabinet committee on security in 1999, months after the Kargil conflict. The plan was to induct 12 diesel subs by 2012 and another 12 submarines by 2030, but repeated delays forced the Navy to rejig the plan. 

Now, the plan is to have 18 diesel-powered submarines and six SSNs. The SSNs will be constructed in Visakhapatnam. Meanwhile, to develop skills and drills for operating SSNs, the Navy has got one Akula-class SSN on lease from Russia.