UNDERWATER SENTINELS ON THE WESTERN SEABOARD

Asubmarine was first conceived by Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century. It has taken the efforts of numerous inventors over almost 400 years for it’s development from a basic submersible to its present avatar. The potential of the submarine as an offensive platform was first realised in WWI. However, it was the Second World War that saw it emerge as a true game changer with ability to pose a grave threat to the enemy’s surface forces and cripple his seaborne trade. The Indian Navy, despite being a subset of the Royal Navy during the war, had no access to this facet of naval warfare. In the years after independence, the Indian Officers pitched for the creation of a submarine force which was discouraged by the British Officers still holding senior positions in the Indian Navy. It was only in 1959, after the reins of the Indian Navy were passed into the hands of Vice Admiral R D Katari, the first Indian Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), that the proposal to form a submarine arm was taken up with the Government and was accorded sanction in 1963. In the year 1965,a Soviet offer for four ‘Foxtrot’ class submarines was accepted and the Indian Naval Submarine Arm came into being with the commissioning of INS Kalvari, on 08 Dec 1967 at Riga, in the erstwhile USSR.

The 1971 India-Pakistan war for liberation of Bangladesh, saw the deployment of the ‘Kalvari’ class submarines on both fronts, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Our submarines were deployed close to the enemy’s coast and took the sub-surface challenge right up to the enemy’s doorstep, thus proving their reputation. The crippling effect of submarine deployments on the enemy’s psyche was thus proved in the Indian waters.

However, all of the first four submarines of the ‘Kalvari’ class were stationed at Visakhapatnam which increased the response time of the force for contingencies in the Western theatre. A need was felt to induct more submarines and station them on the West coast. Soon enough, four additional modernised ‘Foxtrot’ class or ‘Vela’ class submarines were acquired from the Soviet Union commencing 1973. The first of this class, INS Vela, was commissioned on 31 Aug 1973 and was based at Mumbai. This marked the beginning of the submarine arm under the Western Naval Command.

As the ‘Vela’ class submarines were being inducted, the support infrastructure at Mumbai was initially provided by the submarine support ship INS Amba, fondly known as the ‘Mother’. This ship had the capability of providing logistics and accommodation support to submarines, training for submarine attack crews and also housed a workshop to prepare and supply torpedoes. In due course, shore based support infrastructure in the form of Submarine Base Complex (SMBC) was set up andthe four ‘Vela’ class submarines formed the 9thSubmarine Squadron at SMBC, which was headed by a Captain Submarines.

As years went by, the need for modernisation and augmentation of the arm was perceived. In due course, four German Type 209 and eight Russian ‘Kilo’ class submarines were inducted commencing 1986. The German origin Type 209, ‘Shishumar’ class submarines formed the 10th Submarine Squadron and the Russian Origin ‘Kilo’ or ‘Sindhughosh’ class submarines formed the 12th Submarine Squadron at Mumbai under Submarine Base Control (SMBC). It was indeed an achievement for the Indian Ship Builders that the later two of the four Shishumar class submarines were built at the Mazagoan Docks Limited, Mumbai thereby propelling India into the select league of nations with the capacity to build Submarines, and paving the way for indigenous submarine projects of the future.

The growing strength of submarines at Mumbai, prompted revitalisation of the SMBC organisation and thus was commissioned INS Vajrabahu, the shore support base for all submarine squadrons at Mumbai. This development also entailed that the overall operational command of the submarines be devolved on a more senior officer and thus the position of Captain Submarine was elevated to that of the Commodore Submarines or COMSUB, later redesignated as the Commodore Commanding Submarines (West) or COMCOS (W).

The ‘Kalvari’ and ‘Vela’ class submarines have since been decommissioned and the Western Naval Command now boasts of a potent combination of ‘Shishumar’ class and ‘Sindhugosh’ class submarines at Mumbai. In the near future the force would get augmented with the induction of the ‘Scorpene’ class submarines. In true naval tradition, these are being rechristened as the ‘Kalvari’ class, drawing their inspiration from the first war veterans of the Indian Naval Submarine Arm. The Sea-Trials of the under-construction INS Kalveri was conducted recently. With the induction of these new platforms, the submarine force on the Western front would continue to maintain its offensive form and pose a credible antidote to the enemy ships adventuring to challenge Indian Navy’s superiority on the sea.

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