Here’s a tip: Submarines are supposed to run underwater. They are not, however, designed to be filled with water.
India’s navy learned that lesson the hard way after an embarrassing mistake with their flagship nuclear submarine left it crippled and out of operation.
According to The Hindu, the vessel INS Arihant is the first nuclear-powered sub built by India, and was intended to be a linchpin in the nation’s defense plans. However, the craft has not sailed for over 10 months after “human error” caused a port in the hull to stay open and water to pour in.
“Arihant’s propulsion compartment was damaged after water entered it,” the Indian newspaper reported.
“A naval source said water rushed in as a hatch on the rear side was left open by mistake while it was at harbour. Since the accident, the submarine, built under the Advanced Technology Vessel project (ATV), has been undergoing repairs and clean up,” The Hindu continued.
The problem isn’t just the seawater that rushed in, but also sensitive pipes within the submarine that were damaged by the salt-heavy sea.
“Indian authorities likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship’s 83 megawatt nuclear reactor,” Popular Mechanics explained.
“Failing pipes could not only endanger the ship’s crew but the entire submarine… and her nuclear weapons,” the technology magazine elaborated.
To call it an expensive mistake would be putting it mildly.
“India’s first ballistic missile submarine is the result of a $2.9 billion submarine technology program. Construction on Arihant began in 2009, and the ship was commissioned into the Indian Navy seven years later in October 2016,” said Popular Mechanics.
The U.S. magazine posed a question that must be at the top of the Indian admiralty’s minds.
“How in the world could a $2.9 billion submarine be sidelined by a simple mistake? 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?” the magazine wondered.
The accident is particularly embarrassing considering how rare and prestigious a working nuclear submarine program is in the world. There are only six nations with ballistic nuclear submarines: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, and of course the good ol’ U.S. of A.
It just goes to show how vital it is to cover the basics, no matter how “advanced” the piece of military hardware. That’s an important reminder for America as well, and our Navy would be wise to learn from other people’s mistakes.
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