New Delhi, Jan 24 : They have been of valuable service to the Indian Navy for more than 35 years. The Soviet-built Foxtrot submarines, with which the navy's submarine arm came into existence, will be history soon with the two remaining submarines of this class being retired by 2011 - bringing an era to an end.
The Russian Navy had retired its last Foxtrots between 1995 and 2001. However, the Indian Navy is still operating two of them - INS Vela, commissioned in 1973, and INS Vagli, commissioned in 1974.
"One of the Foxtrot submarines, INS Vela will be de-commissioned this year. The last one INS Vagli would retire in 2011," a senior Indian Navy official, wishing anonymity, told IANS.
The Foxtrot class was the NATO's reporting name of a class of diesel-electric patrol submarines that were built in the Soviet Union. The first of the submarines was laid down in 1957 and commissioned in 1958. By the time the last submarine was completed in 1983, the Foxtrot class had become obsolete.
"The Indian Navy's submarine arm had begun with the acquisition of four Foxtrot submarines from the Soviet Union. The first four were called Kalvari class submarines. The problems experienced with them were fed back to the design bureaus in Russia.
"Improvements were gradually introduced and we contracted for another four submarines in 1971. These Vela class submarines arrived between 1973 and 1975," said the official.
According to senior navy officials, out of these eight submarines acquired only two are operational now. The condition of the first four submarines deteriorated fast due to delay in the six-yearly refits.
The Indian Navy lacked the expertise at that time to do the refit. The Russians, because of their own submarine refit workload, were reluctant to accept Indian submarines in their dockyards.
Submariners of the Indian Navy who have operated this vessel feel a sense of nostalgia over the Foxtrots being retired.
"The boats are of German design of World War-II. But the fact that are still able to run it after 35 years of service means that the boats are very good," anIndian Navy officer, who has commanded INS Vela, told IANS.
Being an older submarine, the vessel had its own problems of space.
"Space is actually a constraint in the older submarines. As the submarines are old, and the equipments are bigger - it increases space constraint. The bunk space is so small that some people had to squeeze to get inside. But we had wonderful camaraderie onboard," the formersubmarine commander reminisced.
Another navy officer, who commanded the submarine in the 1980s, said: "Well, like in all submarines, fresh water was in very short supply. We used to get half a litre water daily for drinking. There was no question of having a bath or the luxury of using it for other things. But the adrenaline rush of the chosen few who could run the machine kept us going."
The submarine can be deployed underwater for 45 days at a stretch and surfaces once in a day to replenish oxygen.
One of the de-commissioned submarines of the Foxtrot class has been kept in Visakhapatnam and converted into a Submarine Museum.
"The Submarine Museum is one of its kind in Asia. It is a difficult task to lift a 1,500 tonne submarine and put it on the road," said another navy official.