The decision to buy submarines for emergency deep-sea missions was first taken 14 years ago, but it was only last night that the Cabinet Committee on Security chose UK manufacturer James Fisher for the purchase.
The Deep Search and Rescue (DSAR) mini-submarines are designed to rescue 20 sailors at a stretch. They attach themselves to the emergency hatches of a submarine which may be trapped underwater, providing sailors with an exit route. The submarines that India is buying can dive to a depth of more than 500 metres and are engineered to withstand extreme ocean pressures.
India presently has 13 submarines in service, but not a single rescue submarine.
However, since 1997, the Indian Navy has an understanding with the US Navy which would fly in its own mini rescue submarines which would quickly be deployed if needed. In order to be able to do this, the Indian Navy regularly trains at air bases on both the Eastern and Western sea board to ensure that the US rescue submarines are quickly offloaded from US transport jets, shifted to special trucks, and moved to ports from where they are hoisted onto ships which would sail towards the submarine in distress.
With its own deep search and rescue submarines, the Navy would be able to deploy these vessels far more quickly and reliably in the event of a submarine emergency.
The Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhuratna had managed to surface after a mishap in the Arabian Sea in February 2014, though two officers were killed and several others injured in the incident. The INS Sindhurakshak sank after some if its onboard weapons detonated accidentally while it was docked at the main naval base in Mumbai three years ago. 18 sailors were killed.