While human error is always possible when manning any piece of equipment, carelessly damaging a $3 billion extremely valuable military submarine is particularly cringe-worthy.
In 2018, the Hindu news outlet first reported that the homegrown INS Arihant submarine suffered major damage when a crew member left the rear hatch open and exposed to seawater.
The incident necessitated nearly a year’s worth of repairs, a brutal experience for the Indian Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine. When a sailor left the hatch open, the vessel’s propulsion compartment was damaged by seawater. According to the state-media outlet, numerous pipes had to be completely gutted and replaced in what the Navy detailed as “cleaning up.”
Accidents Do Happen
This is not the first time a military vessel across the globe has suffered from a debilitating accident.
In 1985, the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was left severely damaged after the carrier struck part of the 13-mile-long Bishop Rock.
In 2001, the USS Greeneville tragically collided with a Japanese high-school fishery training ship, killing nine civilians onboard. While no injuries or deaths resulted from the INS Arihant mishap, the incident was quite the embarrassment for the Indian Armed Forces.
An Overview of India’s First Nuclear-Powered Submarine
First conceptualized under the Indian Navy’s secretive Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV) project in the early 1980’s, the INS Arihant’s design was derived from the Akula-class Soviet-constructed nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The Arihant was the first vessel of an expected class of five to enter service in October 2016.
Designed with four launch tubes that could sport a dozen K-4 intermediate-range nuclear missiles or K-15 short-range missiles, the submarine does not carry as many missiles as some of its foreign counterparts.
These missiles have ranges capable of striking India’s top ally Pakistan and regional rival China.
Specs and capabilities
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Arihant is “powered by an 83MW pressurized light-water reactor (PWR) fueled with enriched uranium. The Arihant-class submarines are 110 meters long with an 11-meter-wide beam and can travel up to 24 knots when submerged.
They can remain submerged for about 50 days without surfacing. Their weapons systems are capable of firing torpedoes and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.” Size-wise, the INS Arihant is much smaller than near-peer ballistic missile submarines.
While the hatch incident was undoubtedly a careless error, the submarine has proven to be an important asset for the Indian Navy.
In October, the INS Arihant carried out a successful test launch of a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM). While the exact type of weapon used in the test was not revealed, the K-15 or K-4 are the only missiles that the submarine is known to carry.
A Black Mark
Despite the Arihant’s potential today, the hatch incident remains a black mark for the Indian Navy.
As eloquently summed up by Popular Mechanics, “Not leaving hatches open that could potentially sink a ship, particularly a submarine, is basic common sense. Why were the propulsion section and nuclear reactor on the 364-foot long submarine unattended so the flooding went unnoticed as long as it did? As the star of the Indian Navy, Arihant should have attracted the best submariners India had to offer, which makes this accident all the more baffling.”
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.