INS Amba A14 - Ugra Class - Submarine Depot Ship
The Ugra class was the NATO reporting name for a group of submarine tenders built for the Soviet Navy in the late 1960s. The Soviet designation was Project 1886. One further ship, INS Amba was built for the Indian Navy to a modified design. The ships were intended to provide afloat support, including supplies, water, torpedoes, fuel, and battery charging; minimal repair facilities. Often employed as flagships/command ships for submarine squadrons. The last active ship, INS Amba was decommissioned in 2006.
The western powers were not keen to sell modern submarines to India because of its Non-Alignment policy. The Soviet Union with the efforts of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union,Sergei Goroshkov came into the picture and offered four conventional i641 class submarines to India. On 08 December 1967, a convoy of official vehicles headed for the Naval Jetty at Riga in the Soviet Union for the commissioning ceremony of India’s first submarine INS Kalvari. In 1968 the second batch of submariners led by Commander MN Vasudeva arrived at the Rooski Ostrov and this was followed by the third and fourth batches. INS Khandheri was commissioned on 6 December 1968 and INS Karanj in September 1969 and Kursura on 18 December 1969. INS Amba was commissioned at Odessa by Captain MR Schunker and arrived at Visakapatnam escorting INS Khandheri.
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 and the four ‘Vela’ class submarines formed the 9th Submarine Squadron at SMBC, which was headed by a Captain Submarines.
Special attention had to be paid to the security of this new strategic weapon. On arrival of the mothership INS Amba, some of the sailors having spent long time in USSR seemed to have been greatly influenced with the way of thinking believing in Soviet system for everyone even in service. This caused serious consternation and some troublemakers posed problems for newly arrived vessels with very sophisticated equipment. Hence, special efforts had to be made in coordination with civil agencies to keep a check on some of these undesirables.
The Eastern Fleet, of which the Kamortas (Petyas) were the mainstay, nursed a sense of deprivation vis-à-vis the older and better provided Western Fleet. It did not have a suitable flagship or other large ships, the small, uncomfortable Kamortas had limited endurance and there was no replenishment tanker support. Nor was there an establishment support such as the submarines had, which also included the only large ship Amba, a submarine tender.
Indian Navy presently has warships with mechanical propulsion only. INS Amba (now decommissioned) was the first initiative taken by IN towards electric propulsion. However, Amba was also not a truly IFEP platform. The ship had two independent and mutually isolated electrical power systems, viz a DC-based system for propulsion / submarine battery charging and an AC based system to cater to ship's loads including weapons and navaids.
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