DSRVs for Indian Navy

Though the A K Antony led DAC had cleared the acquisition of two Deep Sea Rescue Vessels in December, 2013 after the tragedy of the death of 18 naval personnel due to the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak Submarine, the current defence minister Manohar Parrikar led Defence Acquisition Committee again discussed the proposal in October, 2015 and cleared the acquisition of Deep Sea Submarine Rescue Vessels, which are required for the recovery of submarines or personnel on board a submarine in case of an accident.

The world‘s fourth largest navy, is yet to possess the submarine rescue vessel on board a submarine and in case of an accident it has been dependent upon the US Navy for assistance. India has an ageing submarine fleet but rudimentary rescue facilities.

Besides India is already operating one nuclear submarine obtained from Russia on lease and another Indian made submarine is under sea trials. It is shameful for a navy which operates nuclear powered submarines but lacks the submarine rescue facilities. The Indian Navy has been craving for such submarine rescue system since last one and half decade. The MoD understood the gravity of the situation in 2013 but still could not make any headway in the acquisition process and once again the MoD has given the go ahead, However, there is no time line for the acquisition and in view of the other pressing needs of the Navy, the naval sources doubt if the contract negotiations will begin soon.

In 1997 India had first contracted with the US Navy for the services of its Global Submarine rescue-fly away-kit for which the MoD had paid an advance amount of $7,35,000 as an interim measure. Then in June, 2000 the Indian Navy formally initiated the requirement of two DSRVs, which was okayed by the Cabinet Committee on Security in November, 2000. It was estimated then that a single DSRV would cost Rs 250 crore, but the project will now cost over Rs 1500 crores. Sources in Defence Ministry said that two proposals from the British and the Russian vendors were under considerations.

Though US has contracted with India to rush rescue and relief systems to save the submariners in distress, most valuable time will be lost in transport. Indian needs permanent deployment of such facilities on its own shores. In 2013 the MoD had cleared the proposal to acquire two deep-sea rescue vessels. Also called the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV), its need was felt deeply against the backdrop of death of 18 personnel in the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak Submarine.

Rescue vehicle

The SSRV (Submarine Support and Rescue Vessel) is equipped with a Remotely Operated Vehicle. This is the only ship in the Asia Pacific region which is able to integrate an advanced Submarine Rescue Vehicle (SRV) with its own organic Launch and Recovery System.

The SRV is also able to integrate with a Transfer Lock and Recompression Chamber to allow any submariner rescued under depth to be safely transferred from the SRV into the RCC for medical treatment, when required. The design has been optimized after more than 30 years of submarine development and rescue operations. Various naval systems companies are designing an effective Submarine Rescue Vessel.

James Fisher Defence (JFD) has designed, manufactured and delivered two DSAR Class Submarine rescue vehicles to the Navies of the Republic of Korea and Singapore. This design has been optimized after three decades of submarine development and rescue operations. The DSAR type of rescue vessels are designed for ease of transport. This has been designed to be able to be flown in transport aircrafts. Its weight is around 22.5 tonnes, which is the lightest in the class. The JFD had handed over ROKS-DSRV-II, which was earlier known as DSAR-5, to the South Korean Navy in 2009. The JFD then delivered DSAR-6 to the Singaporean Navy. The DSAR-6 is operated from a dedicated rescue mother-ship, Swift Rescue. The JFD has signed a 20 year contract with the Singapore Navy along with ST marine for providing complete submarine rescue service.

In 2010 JFD delivered DSAR-6 to the Republic of Singapore. DSAR-6 is operated from a dedicated rescue mother-ship, “Swift Rescue”. Under a twenty-year contract to the Republic of Singapore Navy, JFD and partner ST Marine are responsible for the provision of a complete submarine rescue service.

The Royal Navy of the UK’s Submarine Rescue Headquarters is based at Renfrew in Glasgow, Scotland. The operating team of pilots, engineers and technicians are employed by James Fisher Rumic ltd to maintain and upgrade the rescue systems based at Renfrew. The main assets of the rescue service are a remotely operated vehicle named Scorpio 45 and the LR5 submersible vehicle to carry rescue divers down to distressed submarine, who rescue the survivors and bring them back to safety. Interestingly, the rescue team remains in permanent standby and is ready to  be deployed to any site in the world within 12 hours. Almost a decade ago the team had successfully demonstrated its efficacy which used the Scorpio ROV to free a trapped Priz submersible, rescuing seven Russian sailors. The Priz had become entangled in the fishing nets and cables.

The Russian shipyard Admiralty has offered the 21300-class vessel, the first ship of its kind to Indian Navy. The rescue ship will be commissioned by Russian Navy by the end of 2015. The Russian vessels can serve as a platform for manned rescue missions to depths 1000 feet and is equipped with two unmanned submersibles that can be operated remotely.

The LR5 has been replaced by the NATO submarine Rescue System (NSRS), which consists of a Perry Slingsby Systems Super Spartan unmanned remotely operated vehicle to locate the submarine. This then checks for signs of life and provide emergency supplies and a 3-crew Perry Slings by Systems SR1 submarine rescue vehicle which will be able to dive to depths down to 600 metres and rescue survivors, in groups of around 15 at a time. Kongsberg Maritime Ltd, UK has been contracted to provide the navigation and communication systems.

There are many viable options before the Indian Navy to acquire the SRV, but the government will have first to make up its mind.