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S 20 Kalvari Class

By 1964 it was decided that India should go in for a submarine fleet to guard her long coastline. Britain was unable meet the Indian Navy's needs for destroyers and submarines. To meet India's desire to acquire the latest submarines rather than learn on old ones, the British agreed to re-examine whether they could provide deferred credit to build a new Oberon class submarine in Britain. Till it was ready, India could take an older submarine on loan to meet immediate needs.

Defence Minister Chavan visited Russia later that year. The Defence Minister's delegation were shown a submarine, a submarine depot ship, and small craft like a missile boat, a torpedo boat and a patrol boat. The Naval Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Fleet in the Gulf of Leningrad told Chavan that it was perhaps for the first time in their naval history that foreign civilians were being invited to come aboard a Soviet submarine. The assessments of the naval members of the delegation were that the submarines were suitable for India's needs. On 01 September 65, the Delegation signed an agreement for the acquisition of four submarines.

It was realised that before the construction of the submarines became too advanced, every effort should be made to try and modify them to suit Indian hot and humid climatic conditions. The outcome of discussions was that the Russian side were unable to make any major modifications as the vessels were already under construction. The Russian side stated that the experience of Russian submarines operating in the tropics was sufficient to dispel Indian apprehensions. However the Russian side would welcome the Indian Navy's feedback of operations in the tropics to help improve design.

The first submarine, KALVARI was commissioned in the Baltic in December 1967. After the 1967 Arab Israel war, the Suez Canal had closed. The frigate TALWAR was sent to the Baltic to escort KALVARI back to India via the Cape of Good Hope. KALVARI arrived in Visakhapatnam in July 1968.

After commissioning, each submarine did a three month combat work up in the Baltic before departing for India. Since the Suez Canal was closed, the maiden voyages were around the Cape of Good Hope. The first two submarines were escorted by Indian naval ships, the latter two came on their own. The first four submarines arrived between July 1968 and May 1970 and were based in Visakhapatnam.

The arrival of the submarines from mid 1968 onwards gave the Indian anti submarine frigates and the anti submarine Alize aircraft their long awaited exercise time with submarines. The increase in anti submarine effectiveness was however short of expectations.

For the first time, the Navy came face to face with the unusual hydrological conditions in Indian waters. These conditions favoured the submarines, who could lurk in shadow zones below sea layers where ships sonars could not pene­trate. This highlighted the need for ships to have variable depth sonars and for helicopters to have dunking sonars.

In mid 1971, it was decided to acquire five more Petyas and four more submarines because the series production of these vessels in Russia was coming to an end. The Navy wanted these acquisitions to incorporate the additions and alterations which had been identified for improving their performance.

The six-yearly refit of the first submarine was due in end 1973, beyond which it would have to be laid up as unsafe for operations. The Navy had suggested that at least three submarines would need to do their six-yearly refits in Russia, one per year commencing 1974.

KALVARI returned to Visakhapatnam in 1976 with no defects. Her guarantee specialists returned to Russia earlier than scheduled. It provided a benchmark of a high quality refit to the personnel in Visakhapatnam who had commenced the six yearly repairs of the second submarine KHANDERI in mid 1976.

The actual experience with KHANDERI was beset with delays due to lack of expertise, shortage of spares and the low productivity of the Dockyard. Progressively, as expertise built up and the Dockyard facilities developed, it became possible to become self sufficient for submarine refits. Spares however always remained a problem.

In subsequent years, six yearly refits were carried out both in Visakhapatnam and in Russia. This helped to mitigate the problems of bunching which was a result of four submarine being acquired in 1968-1969 and another four in 1973-1974.

At the beginning of the 1990s the Indian Navy had a total of eight of these Soviet Foxtrot class submarines in active service. Three were subsequently placed in reserve, where they remain, while the active force had been reduced to two units by the end of the decade. Considering the cost of replacement, shortened operational life span of the vessels is a matter of serious concern.

Soviet Foxtrot class submarines, whose normal life is stated to be 20 years, were commissioned between December 1967 and December 1974. Out of the 20 years, the submarine is expected to be operationally available for at least 12 years, the remaining time being spent in refits.

Two of these submarines were decommissioned - one in September 1989 and the other in May 1996 and sanction for decommissioning of one more submarine was issued by the Ministry in December 1996. In the proposal for decommissioning the first one, it was stated in July 1989 that the normal life of the vessel was over and that the submarine had deteriorated to such an extent that it could not be gainfully deployed further. The reason for fast deterioration of this submarine was stated to be its deployment in tropically saline water. With a view to ascertaining the time during which this submarine was operationally available to Navy, the Naval authorities were requested to furnish the total time during which the submarine remained docked for refits. The Naval authorities intimated in December 1996 that while they were making efforts to collate the information regarding the period spent in refits, it might be difficult to obtain it, since all records had been disposed of after decommissioning the submarine.

In case of the second submarine, which was decommissioned in May 1996, it is found that the vessel was in service for 28 years and 5 months out of which 16 years and 2 months were spent in refits/lay off, as a result of which the Indian Navy could utilise the vessel operationally for only 12 years and 3 months. Thus, while this submarine was operationally available for about 12 years, 57 per cent of its extended life was consumed for refits. The third submarine was available in operational state only for nine and a half years out of 22 years of service life.

INS Kursura, a Foxtrot class submarine of the Indian Navy, was decommissioned and inaugurated as a museum at an impressive ceremony held at RK Beach, Visakhapatnam in early 2001. Admiral VS Shekhawat (Retd), ex-Chief of the Naval Staff described the submarine museum as the first of its kind in Asia.

The idea of converting a decommissioned submarine into a museum was conceived by Headquarters, Eastern Naval Command with an aim to bring the Navy closer to the civilian population. This museum provides a layman an exclusive opportunity to have an invaluable experience of boarding a submarine and getting an insight into various aspects of its weaponry, machinery, confined spaces and life onboard. Visakhapatnam is the home station for all the submarines of the Indian Navy where the premier submarine operational establishment INS Virbahu and a training establishment, INS Satavahana are located. The arduous task of beaching the submarine was undertaken by the Naval Ship Research and Design Centre at Visakhapatnam. It has indeed been a marvel of engineering to bring the submarine on to the beach.

INS Karanj, a Kalvari class submarine of the Indian Navy which rendered glorious service in safeguarding the vast maritime frontiers of the country for nearly 34 years was decommissioned at a solemn ceremony held at the Naval Base, Visakhapatnam in late 2003.

The decommissioning ceremony was conducted with full service decorum and elan at the naval jetty. Adm VS Shekhawat, ex-Chief of the Naval Staff who was one of the former Commanding Officers of INS Karanj was the chief guest on the occasion. With the sounding of the last post at sunset, the Paying off Pennant was lowered and a box containing the submarine's Naval ensign was handed over to VAdm Raman Puri, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command by Lt Cdr NK Kulkarni, marking the decommissioning of the submarine. A ceremonial guard was paraded on the occasion. RAdm RK Sharma, Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff from the Naval Headquarters was among the ex-Commanding Officers of INS Karanj. He attended the function as a special invitee. Senior Naval officers of the Flag Rank of the Eastern Naval Command were present at the decommissioning ceremony. The ceremony was also graced by a large number of Naval officers, sailors and their family members.

INS Karanj was commissioned under the command of Cdr MN Samant at Riga in erstwhile USSR on September 4, 1969. Karanj was second in series of the initial induction of "Foxtrot class submarines" of which INS Kalvari was the first submarine. This induction paved way for a new era in the history of the country when the Indian Navy added a third dimension, the submarine arm. The country hence joined the select list of nations with submarine capability.

On commissioning, Karanj joined the 8th Submarine Squadron of the Eastern Naval Command. Since then INS Karanj had been deployed extensively in all major operations and numerous exercises. The submarine safeguarded the national interests on both Eastern and Western seaboards of the country for over three decades. Karanj was similar to Kursura which was hauled on Visakhapatnam Beach after decommissioning as the sub-continent's first submarine museum.

Karanj had served as trials platform for the ATV command systems, including the 'Rani' and 'Pachendriya' radar/sonar equipment. It is unclear which of the two remaining Foxtrot Class boats would take over as the ATV trials platform. By September 2004 refit work on INS Vagli, a prestigious order from the Navy for Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), was nearing completion. The Russian-made Indian Naval Submarine (INS) Vagli, which was docked for major repairs at the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), was undocked on 01 October 2004. The HSL completed the work involving extensive hull works, installation of main and auxiliary machinery and systems. Medium Refit is considered a major project requiring massive infrastructure, special expertise, exhaustive planning and good material supply chain. As of 2005, INS Vela was undergoing a refit, which might not be completed. Both would appear likely to be decommissioned before 2015. By 2008 more than 50 per cent of India's submarines had completed 75 per cent of their operational life of 30 years and some (the INS Vela and INS Vagli) had already outlived their maximum service life. It took the naval dockyard Vizag and HSL nearly a decade each to refit the INS Vela and the INS Vagli, the last surviving pair of Soviet-supplied Foxtrot class submarines acquired in the mid-1970s, which meant the two submarines had already spent a third of their lives in medium refits.

The Foxtrot class submarine INS Vela was decommissioned on 25 June 2010 by Rear Admiral (retd) J.M.S. Sodhi, the commissioning commanding officer of the submarine at a ceremony held at the Visakhapatnam, naval base. INS Vela had served the Indian Navy for the past 37 years. The decommissioning ceremony witnessed a traditional pay off of the submarine with the naval band playing the last post with the hauling down of the national flag, the naval ensign and the decommissioning pennant at sunset. INS Vela was commissioned by the then Lt Cdr J.M.S. Sodhi on August 31, 1973 at Riga, Latvia in the erstwhile Soviet Union. She was the first of the Vela class of submarines to be commissioned into the Indian Navy. Apart from being a training ground for many submarines, she has had several noteworthy operational achievements during her long and illustrious career. INS Vela remains a legend in the submarine force for the operational successes she has achieved. She was the first submarine to be based at Mumbai, and later shifted the base port at Visakhapatnam in 1992. INS Vela was awarded the coveted unit citation in 2004-2005. Over her long life span, INS Vela has been commanded by 26 commanding officers. Her last dive was on June 3, 2009.

The last one - Vagli - is also on its final leg and would be removed from the naval fleet later in 2010. Vela and Vagli are also known as the V-class are part of second batch of eight Foxtrots bought by India from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. The V-class had slightly superior sensors than the first four - the K-class Kurusura, Karanj, Khanderi and Kalvari.

Indian Designator:
Russia Designator: Project 641
NATO Designator: Foxtrot-Class
Length: 91.3 m
Beam: 7.5 m
6 m
1,952 tons surfaced, 2,475 tons submerged
3/8 inch outer light hull comprising ballast tanks.
7/8 inch QT28 Nickel Steel pressure hull.
12 officers
10 midshipmen
56 seamen
Maximum Diving Depth:
985 feet
16 knots surfaced
15 knots submerged
9 knots snorkeling
20,000 miles surfaced at 8 knots,
11,000 miles snorkeling
380 miles submerged at 2 knots
3 - 5 days submerged
3 x Kolomna 2D42M diesel engines, 2,000 hp each.
3 x electric motors; 2 with 1,350 hp and 1 with 2,700 hp.
1 x auxiliary motor with 180 hp.
3 x propeller shafts, each with 6 bladed propellers.
10 tubes (533 mm) 22 Soviet Type 53 torpedoes with active/ passive
44 in lieu of torpedoes
Surface search: Snoop Tray; I band.
Herkules medium-frequency active/passive.
Feniks passive search/attack.
Electronic warfare:
Stop Light, Radar Warning.
Quad Loop Directional Finder.
8 officers, 67 enlisted

Name Number Homeport Builder Ordered Commissioned Decomm
KURSURA S 20 SY 196 18 Dec 1969 2001
KARANJ S 21 SY 196 04 Sept 1969 01 Aug 2003
KHANDHERI S 22 SY 196 06 Dec 1968 1989
KALVARI S 23 SY 196 08 Dec 1967 1996
VELA S 40 Vishakapatnam SY 196 31 Aug 1973 25 Jun 2010
VAGIR S 41 SY 196 03 Nov 1973 1999
VAGLI S 42 Bombay SY 196 10 Aug 1974 2010
VAGSHEER S 43 SY 196 26 Dec 1974 1998

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:43:47 ZULU