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German-built, operated by Indonesia, similar to India’s: What we know of the missing submarine

A HDW Type 209 vessel, it is estimated to have less than 48 hours of oxygen supply left currently. Missing since this week, it is one of 5 submarines Indonesia operates.

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New Delhi: An Indonesian conventional submarine that went missing this week with 53 persons on board off the coast of Bali is a HDW Type 209 vessel built by Germany and is similar to what India operates, but with one major difference.

The four HDW Type 209 submarines operated by India has a detachable rescue pod that can accommodate the over 50 crew members in case they have to abandon the vessel due to any complications. This feature is unique to the Indian Navy.

The 1,300 tonne KRI Nanggala submarine does not have this feature and the latest reports say that the vessel only has less than 48 hours of oxygen left.

According to Jakarta Post, the missing submarine was believed to be in around 700 metre (2,300 feet)-deep waters. 

“It’s a classic submarine,” French navy vice-admiral Antoine Beaussant was quoted as saying by AFP. He also said the vessel has a safety descent level of 250 metre.

“If it went down to rest at 700 metres, the likelihood is it would have broken up,” he added.

According to available information, the submarine had dived for a torpedo firing practice, but lost contact. The submarine is said to have fired two torpedoes — live and a practice torpedo — before losing contact.

The construction of the Indonesian diesel electric attack submarine began in 1978 and was delivered in October 1981.

The vessel is one of the five submarines that Indonesia operates and has undergone several upgrades over the years. Among the five, two are of the Cakra class or Type 209.

The last major refit of the missing submarine was undertaken in 2012 in South Korea during which parts of its structure were replaced and upgrade was done to its propulsion, sonar and weapons systems.

Also read: Ballistic missile submarine Arighat in final stages of trials, to be commissioned early 2021

The Type 209 submarines

These submarines were developed in the 1960s to replace the World War II-era vessels. 

While the Type 209 submarines were never used by the Germans itself, it was a roaring export success as Germany sold over 60 of these vessels to over a dozen countries, including India and Indonesia. It is the top selling non-nuclear submarine in the world.

The manufacturers of the Type 209/1400, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, say the vessel was inspired by the coastal post-war submarines of the German Navy, but enlarged to be able to operate in deeper waters and carry more equipment.

Also read: India’s Romeo begins flight trials in US, anti-submarine chopper delivery likely in July

India’s Shishumar class of Type 209

India operates four of the Type 209 submarines, which are known as the Shishumar class of vessels.

While the rest of the submarines manufactured by the Germans is known as the Type 209/1400, the Indian variants are the Type 209/1500.

As mentioned earlier, the Indian submarines come with a detachable rescue pod.

The first of these four submarines was commissioned in 1986 and is known as the INS Shishumar. This and the second submarine were completely built in Germany.

The next two were assembled at the state-run Mazgain Dock Limited in Mumbai. According to the original plan, India was to have a total six Type 209/1500 submarines with the last two being built in India under Transfer of Technology.

However, a corruption scandal sealed the fate and India cancelled the plans to manufacture the last two on account of it being too expensive — a move that has been seen as a severe setback because the country would have had the submarine manufacturing technology decades ago.

Corruption scandal involving HDW

In February 1979, the then Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs under Prime Minister Morarji Desai met and approved the acquisition of submarine-to-submarine killers (SSK) for the Indian Navy with a diving depth of 350 metre.

Following clearance by the cabinet, the then vice-chief of naval staff appointed a six-member expert committee headed by Rear Admiral S.L. Sethi, which included Captain M. Kondath, the director (submarines), in March 1979.

According to a 1990 report by India Today, there were four systems in contention — the Kockums being pushed by a Swedish firm, the West German HDW, the Italian Sauro and TNSW-1400.

“On May 16, the Sethi committee submitted its report to the vice-chief of naval staff. It gave the Swedish 45-Kockums first preference followed closely by the Italian Sauro submarine. Among the offers rejected at that time by this committee was that of West Germany’s HDW because it had a diving depth of only 250 metres, which was far short of the stated requirement of 350 metres,” the report stated.

“But barely a month later, on June 15, HDW resurfaced as one of the contenders. The committee put HDW on its list with the proviso that it would be considered along with the others if it could improve its diving depth.”

While originally, the deal was initiated during the Desai government, it was signed during Indira Gandhi’s tenure and delivered during Rajeev Gandhi’s dispensation.

V.P. Singh, who was the defence minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987, said he had received information that the Germans may have overcharged India and ordered that attempts should be made to renegotiate the prices and bring them down for the remaining two submarines.

“That’s when the first depth charge exploded. On February 24, 1987, J.C. Ajmani, India’s ambassador in Bonn, sent a secret telegram to the Government saying that the Germans were not inclined to reduce the price because included in it was a 7 per cent commission they had paid to secure the contract,” the India Today report said. 

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: Rajnath Singh assures support to Indonesian counterpart Subianto in tracing missing submarine


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  1. Indian sub displaces about 1500 tons. Yes it has a rescue sphere for the crew. Designed for 625m depth but tested for 725m pr. It pops up within 2 minutes of release from submarine.

    • How come you guys know everything and are so sure of everything you know? If tainted guys switch to BJP, they become swachch!! I’m from Karnataka and I know the party is deeply indebted to money made from illegal mining. Yeddyurappa doesn’t even care to claim swachchatha.

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