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Submarine fire may have been sabotage

India’s submarine fleet lacks the ‘deepwater submarine pens’ used by their counterparts in US, China.

MADHAV NALAPAT  Mumbai | 17th Aug 2013

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Indian Submarine INS Sindhurakshak

ntelligence professionals believe that the 14 August explosions which destroyed INS Sindhurakshak could have been caused by sabotage. They fault the Indian Navy for consistently refusing to credit negative reports about its own men, as recently evidenced in the treatment meted out to a female whistle-blower, who complained of improper behaviour on the part of a group of officers, but was soon jailed on unrelated charges. They see parallels with the frequent crashes of IAF fighter aircraft, some of which, a top intelligence professional warns, "may have come about because of deliberate sabotage during routine maintenance operations", a possibility that "has never been seriously considered". He pointed out that background checks on armed forces staff involved in sensitive duties was "a joke", and that "even matters of extreme relevance such as surfing habits on the internet were not ordinarily scanned". Nor "were offbase contacts with suspicious individuals", with "activities of staff while on leave or during their free time being almost completely missing from the radar". Others added that hostile intelligence services as well as non-state players "had the money needed to win over possible mercenaries willing to carry out sabotage".

Officers familiar with the Mumbai docks near the Reserve Bank of India claim that security is less than impressive, and that oftentimes the gates are guarded by "police personnel or retired servicemen armed with primitive weapons", including rifles "whose design dates back to World War II". An officer warned that "if Kasab and his mates had hit the Naval yards rather than fancy hotels, the consequences may have been catastrophic for the service". He claimed that "it would take more than 20 minutes for fully-equipped reinforcements to come to the yard, and during that time, a lot of damage can be done". Certainly the few lightly-armed guards at Lion's Gate (the entrance to the Mumbai naval yard) look inadequate.

Although Defence Minister A.K. Antony has ruled out sabotage, terming the explosion as a tragic accident, intelligence professionals set out scenarios in contrast to the "Act of God" line taken by the minister. Officers claim that India's submarine fleet, including those berthed in Mumbai, lack the "deepwater submarine pens" used by their counterparts in the United States or China, having to do with shallow waters where "they cannot hide from eyes in the sky". According to a senior professional, it would be easy for a trained person to ride an underwater "chariot" (essentially a torpedo-like vehicle atop which a man can ride through the water). Should this person have a modern diving suit, then "there would not even be telltale bubbles rising to the surface of the water to warn of his presence". However, others discount the theory of an explosive being placed on the submarine's hull from the outside, by pointing out that two more submarines were berthed side by side the stricken vessel and that "a saboteur could have placed such explosives on the sides of all three rather than on just one". However, they concede that "placing explosives at specific points" on the external skin of the submarine would "trigger subsequent explosions of ordinance" stored within the vessel.

They discounted the theory of a hydrogen leak, pointing out that the Sindhurakshak's batteries were charged a full three days before the explosions. More likely, in their view, was a "deliberate attempt to trigger an explosion through an inside job". Given the reluctance of the Ministry of Defence to examine the probability that the initial explosion was an act of sabotage, these intelligence professionals say that "the truth will get buried at sea rather than surface", the way other such enquiries into similar military mishaps have in the past, including in the other service arms.

 
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