Tuesday, 13 August 2013

INS Sindhurakshak on fire - battery fire or possible torpedo explosion like Kursk?

UPDATE: Put up a new post showing the insides of a Kilo-class submarine and explaining three (updated on 15 August to four) possible scenarios for this disaster.

UPDATE 2: Have taken a look at Business Standard's excellent article on the accident, in which Vice Admiral (Retd.) A.K. Singh, a former submariner,  gives his opinion on the possible causes. Blog link goes here.

UPDATE 3: (August 16, 2125 IST) - A last update to this post. Four bodies have been found in the "second comparment behind the conning tower" - is it compartment 2 or compartment 4? The rest of the submarine is so badly mutilated that it's near-impossible to further into the submarine. Compartments 5 and 6 remain the most logical places for sailors to be safe - but do they have the oxygen? Were their watertight doors sealed? I suspect a long body count is forthcoming, so I'll put a stop to speculation for now.


This is horrible. Eighteen sailors trapped aboard a submarine in the dockyard ( 11:14 PM IST 14 August - still no word on whether anyone is alive but the situation looks very grim). At least this is not like the disaster on Kursk, which landed up a hundred meters below the Barents Sea. The men inside this submarine probably have access to oxygen and may be able to get out of the Kilo-class diesel submarine (Project 877EKM) alive.

Russian submarines and warships have long since suffered from substandard maintenance as the result of the fall of the USSR, and as far as I know the Russians never put into operation a SUBSAFE-style quality control program to prevent disastrous accidents from happening on their vessels. Submarines have had collisions, onboard fires and other accidents, Russian subs suffering pretty badly at times. So what happened on this Russian-built submarine?


This submarine has had a battery fire before. Batteries can overheat and catch fire at odd times - the case of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft shows that batteries can cause trouble where least expected. But judging from the sheer size of this blaze, it's more likely that this is not a battery fire, but something far more ominous : a torpedo fire.

The most infamous victim of a torpedo fire was the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk,  which blew up and sank on 12 August 2000, almost exactly 13 years ago (superstitious people, please take note of this). The mighty Kursk was doomed by an exploding 650mm practice torpedo, powered by hydrogen peroxide. The link below identifies the practice torpedo in question as a 65-76 'Kit'. The hydrogen peroxide explosion and fire knocked out the command post and set off a second, much larger explosion of torpedoes stored forward, blowing the entire submarine to bits.

Did something similar happen aboard the Sindhurakshak? Quite possibly so. Take a look at the Russian torpedoes in the link below-
Several Russian 533mm weapons, such as the 53-65 torpedo, run off Kerosene and either Hydrogen Peroxide or Oxygen. A Kerosense-Peroxide practice torpedo, if leaking, could come into contact with rust or similar corrosion and start off a fire. Such a fire could 'cook off' torpedo warheads and cause the kind of explosion seen on film footage. While I can't claim to be an expert and determine the size or intensity of the blast from such footage, this is at least a plausible explanation for the explosion seen. (11:14 PM IST - Expert confirms the presence of the 53-65 and places explosion at 500-1000 kilograms HE.)

This submarine was back from an 80 million dollar modernization before it blew up. I won't be surprised if shoddy worksmanship had something to do with this disaster. If that's the case, it's going to be hard to trust Russian shipyards on anything, especially after the mess they made with Vikramaditya's modernization. Hopefully there won't be any more torpedoes on board to endanger the 18 men trapped inside. What a mess.

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