While Indian soldiers faced the Pakistan army at Kargil, one summer night some time in May 1999, the INS Sindhurakshak, sailed out of Mumbai harbour. A few hours outside the city, the submarine dived and headed north off the coast of Pakistan.
This was no ordinary patrol, as its captain (name withheld) knew full well. The Indian army was evicting Pakistani intruders from the Kargil heights and the Indian Air Force (IAF) was bombing the mountains in support of army operations.
Both the eastern and western fleets of the Indian navy had been combined and deployed off the coast of Pakistan, waiting in case the war expanded. The possibility of a sea-borne attack could not be ruled out.
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The tip of the spear was going to be the Sindhurakshak, then the navy’s ninth and newest Kilo-Class submarine. It carried 18 long, sleek, ‘Test 71’ electric-homing torpedoes ‘each tipped with 250 kgs of high explosive. These torpedoes could rip through any warship.
For the next 46 days, as the army gallantly battled the enemy forcing them off the mountain tops, the Sindhurakshak stealthily prowled off Pakistan’s Makran coast, always submerged. The 60-member Sindhurakshak crew did not see sunlight for over a month.
At night, the 3,000 tonne steel shark came up a few meters from below the surface, just enough to stick out a ‘snort mast’ out of the water. This mast would suck in the air to run its onboard diesel engines. These would, in turn, charge its batteries, a process called ‘snorting’, the standard cycle of a conventional diesel-electric submarine. After charging batteries, it was back to the war patrol.
The crew spent their time practicing dummy attacks on ships entering and leaving Karachi harbour, which was within striking distance. A lot of the problems of, ‘positive identification’ of targets, which had prevented naval submarines from attacking targets off Karachi during the 1971 war, had been resolved. When the order for the attack came, the Sindhurakshak would unleash hell. The order never did come though.
The Sindhurakshak was pulled back to Mumbai from its lengthy deployment. Two other Indian submarines were similarly deployed on lengthy war patrols off Pakistan during Operation Vijay but the Sindhurakshak was the first. Its deployment opened the eyes of even naval planners to the capability of the navy’s submarine arm. The Sindhurakshak was awarded a unit citation after the war.
True to its motto of the submarine arm being a silent service, its story was never made known. Naval spokesperson, Capt. Manoharan N preferred to remain silent. “The position of the submarines are never made known,” he said. Below the rumble and crash of waves, submarines like Sindhurakshak, the silent warriors, pretend to sleep. When they wake, the world will tremble.
As the army battled the enemy forcing them off mountain tops, the Sindhurakshak stealthily prowled off Pakistan’s Makran coast, always submerged. The 60-member Sindhurakshak crew did not see sunlight for over a month.