Monday, March 14, 2011

War Scenario. Part XXXVI

Previous Part

0810 Hours
Somewhere South of Malaysia
Indian Ocean

The Indian Akula was lurking in the relatively shallow waters of Indian Ocean on an routine patrol when the hostilities commenced all of a sudden. Till then, it's work had mainly consisted of avoiding merchant ships and gathering intelligence on the odd military vessel that came within it's range. But the sudden escalation had turned a routine intelligence gathering patrol in to a combat patrol. Right now the newest submarine of the Indian naval fleet was drifting along at speed of 7 knots just outside territorial waters of Malaysia
It's crew was on highest alert and complete silence had been enforced on deck. That meant everything that could cause any kind of noise that included music players, loud conversations were banned. Sonar crew was bent over their respective consoles intently analyzing every contact that showed up on their passive sonar. Previously most of their contacts had been noisy merchant vessels and fishing trawlers of all shapes and sizes. Some of the crewmen claimed that they could hear them from miles away even without any gadget. Presence of so many vessels provided them some cover to hide their own noise. But it also worked for the enemy in similar way. Correctly detecting and identifying targets of interest in such conditions was a herculean task even with the ultra-modern electronic gear on board. But the news of nuclear conflict in the sub-continent had changed the conditions drastically. Most of the shipping companies plying in this area had stopped all their activities in this area pending further improvements in the security situation. A few small fishing trawlers were still active, but most of the cover offered by big vessels was gone. As with normal conditions, the advantage or disadvantage of the situation affected both sides equally.

Although the sea floor had been mapped extensively by commercial as well as military organizations, no submarine crew took the task of navigating those waters lightly. The sea is shallow and sea bed highly uneven. As if that was not enough, the sea bed is littered with wrecks of countless ships making job of navigators hairy at best of the times. In a nutshell, such were the conditions under which the Indian submarine was guarding India against another sneak attack by Chinese

Captain of Akula was monitoring all the reports being fed in to his console without pause for hours. He leaned away from his console and stretched a little in order to drive away the cramps that were beginning to set in. Addressing his sonar man he remarked, “The sea is pretty quite now, isn't it ?

Sonar man replied, “Indeed it is. It's a fish market otherwise. No pun intended.”

“Still, don't let your guard down. I'm sure that we are about to see some action very soon.”

As if on cue, one of the sonar crew members announced, “Sir, we have 3 faint contacts. One at bearing two-three-zero and other two at two-five-five. Approximate distance 39000 m and 38000 m respectively”

All signs of relaxation disappeared from the crew to be replaced by a renewed sense of urgency. Captain took a look at his console where the output from the submarines passive sonar was being fed. According to the map, the contacts were moving in from behind a small inhabited island .

“What's their speed ?”

Calculating exact speed and bearing of targets at such distances has always been quite difficult. Sonar man paused for a while before answering, “Approximately 17 knots each sir.”

Even the most modern ships are practically deaf when traveling at speeds excess of 15 knots. At such speed, sound of water rushing by overpowers every other sound that might be captured by sonar under lower speeds. Therefore while traveling, submarines dash at high speed and drift at lower speed alternately. By lowering their speed they can take stock of their surroundings for any threats, then rush at high speed before slowing down again. Thereby repeating the process again and again, they can travel with a reasonable amount of situational awareness..
Captain stood up , “Good. This means that they most likely haven't detected us yet. Turn to bearing two-four-zero and make speed 4 knots.”

Helmsman acknowledged the order at once, “Bearing two-four-zero, speed 4 knots, aye.”

The silent submarine slowed down to near drifting speeds as it turned to face the incoming vessels. Inside, it's highly trained crew strained to capture any clue that could help them identify the possible new threats. Every class of sea vessel has it's distinctive sound when it's traveling. Even different vessels belonging to the exact same class and category can be identified by their acoustic signatures that are almost always unique. Navies spend enormous amount of effort and money to gather such data about their opponents. Naval vessels often stalk enemy ships and submarines for days to correctly gather such data which is then analyzed and spread in to rest of the fleet to make identification of enemy vessels easier. Once a ship has such previously collected data in it's computers, all it has to do is to compare the acoustic signature of a suspected target against the database it carries for an accurate identification.

After a few minutes sonarman announced, “Sir, we have a positive identification on all three targets. The one on two-three-zero is Chinese SSN Type-093, serial G13. On two-five-five , we have one Type-093, serial G-18 and a Type-094 serial L21 approximately 800m behind it. Designating the targets as Bandit 1, Bandit 2 and Bandit 3.”

A worried expression clouded faces of everybody present in the bridge. Type-093 were the latest Chinese nuclear attack submarines designed and manufactured with significant help from Russia. Although Akula was more than a match in one-on-one combat, presence of two made the conditions slightly more difficult. But thing that really gave everybody the goose bumps was presence of Type-094 SSBN. The submarine which first entered service in middle to late 2000s was capable of carrying 16 JL1 SLBMs with an approximate range of 2500 KM. It would've been a grave threat if that submarine could come within launch range of any major Indian city or even Naval base at Andaman.

As of now, the lone Indian Akula was the only Indian asset that could intercept the speeding Chinese. All other ships including sole operational aircraft carrier Virat were too far away to help. If the Chinese were to launch any SLBM, only the Akula could stop them for now.

Captain ordered his helmsman to come near the surface and send out warnings to rest of the fleet.
Once the message containing bearing and number of enemy submarines was sent captain ordered the speed to be reduced to zero and lay still gathering all the intelligence they could before making any move. Validity of his decision was soon proved when his sonarman announced presence of another Chinese Type 093 submarine at bearing two-one-zero. It was traveling at lower speed and thus comparatively quieter . It was detected as it increased speed, most likely to keep up with rest of the fleet. As soon as he had finished announcing the presence of fourth submarine, sonar man announced again, “Sir, all of the enemy submarines have increased their speeds to 24 knots.”

The way they were traveling, the Type-094 would've been close enough to launch it's missiles at A&N islands in little over 1 hour and on to Indian mainland in another 4. Time was of the essence and the sudden increase in speed as they traveled towards Indian coast suggested that they meant to do exactly that. Indians would lack any other choice except to intercept and destroy the Chinese submarines, except for the fact that there were not enough Indian assets in the area.
While he was still contemplating his tactics his communications officer handed him over a paper containing the latest directives received from HQ. It was brief and self-explanatory as most military communication is supposed to be. He was ordered to intercept and destroy enemy submarines before they could launch their missiles. No help was coming for at least 4 hours. He stared at the paper slip was a few seconds. Even if any ship or plane could come to help, Chinese submarines would've launched their missiles and exited from the area.

His second in command, a Lieutenant Commander stood by expectantly waiting for orders. Captain put the paper slip away and took a deep breath before addressing the crew, “All right men. We have our orders to intercept and destroy the incoming Chinese submarines before they can launch any of their missiles. Some of our ships and planes are coming to help but it'll take some time. If the Chinese decide to launch before help arrives, we are all that stand between another nuclear attack on our nation. I want all of you to be completely alert and on your toes. That's all for now. Man all battle stations.”

As ordered previously, Indian Akula was lying completely still in water as the Chinese submarines came closer and closer still completely oblivious to the enemy's presence. Indian crew watched nervously on the display screen as the four blips denoting the four Chinese submarines passed by their position one by one within minutes of each other. 2nd in command commented,” They are not slowing down at all.”

Captain answered, “ It's their slowing down that should worry us. They can't fire while traveling so fast. ” He waited for a few minutes for Chinese to pass and then turning to his helms man he ordered, “Helm, make speed 12 knots. Match bearings with Bandit 3.”
The Indian submarine slowly engaged gears and started started following it's still oblivious quarry.
He didn't want to increase speed by too much for two reasons. First, he wanted to be 100% sure of the enemy's position. Gaining too much speed would've put a penalty on his situational awareness. Second, he wanted to be as sure as possible of not giving away his location to any other enemy submarine that might be following the ones in front of him. But very soon, the Bandits reached near the range limit at which they could be accurately tracked and targeted by Akula forcing it to increase it's own speed.
But unlike the racing Chinese who were dashing like there was no tomorrow, Indians took pauses between their speed bursts to slow down and listen before rushing again.
It was in between such pauses that they detected the Bandit 3 and 4 slowing down while 1 and 2 still raced ahead. With mounting anxiety Indians noted that the Bandit 3 was very near the range of launching it's missile on some of the major coastal Indian cities. Keeping their own speed at a comparative lower figure of 8 knots,, Indian crewed listened intently to any sign of missile launch preparation by Chinese. Bandit 3 was still traveling too fast too launch it's own missiles, so they waited matching their own speed to that of Bandit 3. One immediate loss of this approach made itself visible soon enough. Bandit 1 and 2 soon went out of range of their tracking sonar and torpedoes. But it also evened out the odds somewhat, leaving Akula with only two enemies to take care of instead of four.

Lt. Cmd wondered aloud, “Why the hell those escorts raced away from the SSBN ? Shouldn't they be guarding it ?”

“They probably want to sanitize the area first or plain old diversionary tactics only. One of our anti-sub planes is patrolling that area I hope our guys get a fix on them soon enough.“ navigating officer guessed.

The chase went on for a few minutes more after which both Bandit 3 started to slow down and lowered it's speed to 5 knots. At the same time it gradually started decreasing it's depth even more slowly. Bandit 4 too slowed down after gaining getting nearly a KM on Bandit 4 and deployed it's towed array sonar. This forced Akula to reduce it's speed further to avoid any chance of getting detected on the much sensitive towed sonar array.

“I have a really bad feeling about this.” Captain remarked .

“So do I. I don't like this one bit.” Lt. Cmd replied.

Friday, March 4, 2011

War Scenario. Part XXXV

Previous Part

0615 Hours
2 November 2012
Delhi Class Destroyer
Arabian Sea

In spite of near complete destruction of Pakistani's military, Indian military personnel were not relaxing. One of venerable Delhi class destroyers was patrolling the Arabian Sea, south of Gwadar, Pakistan which had been burnt to ashes only a few hours before. A group of technicians and operators on board the ship's bridge was bent over their consoles watching every thing with full concentration.

Sonar operator announced, “We have an underwater contact at grid sector C221, around 31 Km from our current location.”

“Do we have any assets in that area ?” Captain asked.

“Negative sir. A Shark is on a combat patrol 50 KM south, but we have no submarines operating so close to Pakistani coast at this time.”

“ Any identification of submarine?”

“Not really. Parts of our under-water sensor array have been damaged due to the nuclear explosions. We don't have a 100% fix.”

“Looks like we'll have to do it the old fashioned way. Turning to his communications officer he ordered, “ Designate the suspected contact as Bandit 1. Launch Sea King immediately “
To navigation officer, “Make speed 10 knots and bearing on an intercept with the bandit.”

A few minutes later comms officer reported ,“Sir, Sea King from Delhi has begun dropping passive sonobuoys .”

“Any progress ? “ Commander asked .

“Not yet.”

Commander nodded and waited silently. There was no escape for Bandit 1 unless Indians made some mistake or if it was really lucky. He didn't believe in luck and he was not making any mistakes, not in such a situation for sure. He didn't have to wait long. Within 5 minutes, report of the contact came in via the communications officer, “ Sea King has made the contact sir. It's a Chinese Type-09 nuclear attack submarine. At it's present speed of 11 Knots, it'll enter our waters in less than 2 hours.”

“Shit!” WSO exclaimed, “These subs can carry nuclear tipped SLCMs.”

“In current situation, we are assuming that it is carrying nuke missiles. There is no time left to play games .” Turning to his navigator he asked, “ How far is Bandit one from our current location. ?”

“We'll intercept on it's estimated path in 50 minutes.”

“Good. Keep our current course and instruct Sea King to keep following it. .”

As soon as he finished the sentence, slightly panicked voice of sonar operator broke in,”Sir, Bandit 1 is coming up to a possible SLCM launch depth.”

WSO announced after a few seconds, “Sea King has a firing solution on Bandit 1.”

Although Sea King carried two A244 torpedos, their size and impact was much too small as compared to much bigger ones carried by the ships and submarines. But it was the only choice that Indians had at that moment as both of the bigger vessels, Delhi destroyer and Akula submarine were too far away.
Captain weighed his options. He could choose to wait for the Delhi destroyer for it's bigger and longer ranged torpedoes and depth charges and risk the Chinese submarine launching it's missiles and running away before the ship could even come within firing range. Or he could order the Sea King to drop it's much smaller torpedoes right now. Although the smaller torpedoes were not an ideal weapon to sink the Chinese submarine, he didn't have the minutes to wait for a sure-shot kill.
“Order Sea King to launch it's torpedoes right now.”

Sonar operator confirmed the two torpedoes hitting water. They acquired their target within seconds and started homing in by themselves. Chinese didn't miss the sound of torpedoes hitting the water and immediately started taking evasive maneuvers. The submarine immediately put itself in to a deep dive angle on full throttle and launched decoys. This way it was successful in diverting one of the A244, but the other one found it's mark and hit it's target near propeller on it's port side. The explosion tore a hole in to the submarine's hull and damaged the propeller shaft assembly beyond repairs. There was also some damage to one of it's bigger ballast tanks which was just emptied a few moment ago as the submarine was coming near to surface. As the water started to seep in, the submarine started listing dangerously to it's side owing to imbalance in weight. It's Chinese crew was forced to seal off most of it's rear area and empty rest of the ballast tanks. The submarine came to the surface a minute later still listing slightly to it's port side and lay still. Although it was not completely destroyed, the fact that it was tilted on it's side ensured that it could not launch any of it's missiles.

Sea King hovered in a tight circle with it's crew keeping a close eye on any movement while waiting for it's mother ship to come close enough to launch a boarding party.

On board the destroyer, a round of congratulations and pats on the backs was in progress when the sonar operator nearly jumped out of his seat, “ I think I just heard gun shots from insides of the submarine! “

Although everybody in the bridge seemed bewildered, Captain seemed looked amused, “Gun shots inside the submarine ? Are you really sure ?”

“It surely sounded like gunshots to me.” Sonar operator replied looking slightly embarrassed.

“Hmm. We can't rule out anything at this time anyway. Turning to his comms officer he ordered, “ Try contacting the submarine before we try boarding it. ”

The comms officer had been trying everything but had no luck getting any response from the Chinese. He replied, “We are getting no response sir. It's like either they are not answering deliberately or their communication gear is damaged.”

“Very well. Looks like we'll have to board the submarine. Are our men ready for it ?”

His 2nd in command replied, “A ten man team is getting ready as we speak. They'll be ready to go in 5 minutes.”

Captain nodded approvingly, “Good. Cut open hatches of the submarine if you have to. But do it quick. There is no time for us to waste.”

A heavily armed team of 10 men from the ship boarded two boats and climbed atop the tilted submarine, while the destroyer and it's Sea King kept watch. They banged on the hatch shouting at the Chinese inside to open it. Still getting no response, they started cutting open an entrance using blow torches. They had just started the process when the latch was unlocked from the inside and a motley group of Chinese sailors peeked out cautiously. One by one they climbed out with their hands raised and were immediately taken in to custody. No man from either side knew any common language. Although they tried communicating by sign language, the idea was soon dropped and the Chinese were quickly bundled off to the destroyer. Indian team then decided to take chances and entered the submarine. In spite of the unexpectedly easy entry, they were not expecting a real cake walk

Leaving 2 men to guard the exit, rest of the team started advancing towards the bridge. The fact that the already cramped submarine was was tilting to an angle made their advance a bit more complicated. Nevertheless they kept advancing and reached the bridge without facing any opposition. There they were greeted by the sullen faces of a few Chinese seamen. Except for 2 officers carrying handguns, rest of the crew was unarmed and they all surrendered without much persuasion.
One of the officers knew a little English and he tried talking with Indians. Using gestures and some broken English, he took them to the living quarters where a large group of Chinese sailors was gathered around the Captain's cabin chattering excitedly. On seeing one of their officers guiding the armed Indian party up to the door, they fell quiet and spread around the door.

Leader of Indian party, Chief Petty Officer Lakshman faced the Chinese officer and asked for reason behind the spectacle. Chinese officer in turn pointed towards the door and said, “Captain ! Our captain inside.”

Lakshman first looked at his team mates then asked, “Ask him to open the door. He will be treated honourably and fairly.”

Chinese shook his head vehemently, “We have Pakistani. Pakistani has Captain inside. We need help to save Captain.”

Somebody from the Indian team exclaimed, “What the hell is he talking about ! He has Pakistanis on board ? For what, cooking pork ?”

“Keep quiet and let me try to understand the situation.” Lakshman snapped and turned to Chinese officer again, but Chinese were unable to explain anything more beyond vague gestures.

Getting frustrated with the logjam, Lakshman banged on the door and shouted in Hindi. He was startled by somebody shouting from inside in same language, “Who the fu** is it now ?”

Lakshman shouted back, “We are from Indian navy and this submarine along with all it's crew is under our control now. Open the door and come outside with your hands up in air. You will not be harmed.”

The man inside the room laughed ironically, “I could've never expected to be in a situation like this even in my wildest dreams.” He snorted again and shouted with renewed anger, “Their damned captain is still alive. Tell all these Chinese ******** to fu** off otherwise I'll snap his neck like a chicken. And I need medical attention for General.”

Indian team outside shared quizzical glances. This was way beyond strange even for them. Feeling slightly bewildered Lakshman replied, ““What General and who are you? “

Man inside the cabin laughed again, “You still don't know ? Well, that doesn't matter. Get these idiots off the boat and send an unarmed medic inside right now.”

“We have Chinese crew of this submarine under control. We assure you of your safety and full medical attention. Just open the door and let us in.”

“You'll first get these Chinese out of my eyesight and then send a medic inside as I said earlier.”

Lakshman was getting irritated, “Do you realise that you are in no condition to demand anything ? This submarine is leaking and will sink in a few hours. You can stay locked inside and first watch your General die then drown with him to your watery grave. Or open the door like a reasonable person and let us help you.”

“I don't care about dying, friend. But I have something that will prove very valuable to you. If I die, the information dies with me. Now you decide if the information that I carry on me is valuable enough for you or not.“

Lakshman sighed resignedly and gestured his men to start rounding up the Chinese “Alright. I'll get them out of submarine right now. As soon as the last Chinese is out, you'll open the door and let us in.”

“Fair enough. I'm waiting.”

But the Chinese didn't oblige easily. As soon as Indians started escorting them out, the Chinese sailors started shouting and refused to budge. Neither side could understand what other was saying and it was only after the Indians threatened to gun down some of more unruly members that the Chinese started to file out one by one with angry expressions on their faces.

Indian boarding party received a fairly big surprise when they entered the Captain's cabin. Inside they found a Pakistani army officer with a gun pointed at a terrified and bound Chinese submarine captain. Another Chinese officer in PLA General's uniform lay dead on the floor with 3 bullet wounds while a Paki army officer, who was at once identified as General Asgar himself was spread unconscious on a table. He too had been shot once through chest. The Paki officer was unarmed and everybody taken in to custody. Once at the ship, interrogation started immediately. The captured Paki officer identified himself as Lt. Zia, a trusted aide of General Asgar. The story he told his interrogators was nothing like anybody expected.

According to him, General Asgar had ordered the launch of first nuclear missile as soon as the Chinese had informed him of the arsenal's arrival. By this, he had expected to shift the blame to General Beg and force him to step down under the threat of similar nuclear strikes on Pakistan as well as India. What he hadn't counted upon was the duplicity of Chinese. Within minutes of the first launch, Pakis had intercepted a communication between General Mao Hu and a senior CPC member in China. CPC member was quoted as ordering General Hu to fight to the last Paki. When General Asgar confronted General Hu with the intercept, the Chinese at once kidnapped Asgar and moved him and his aide to the submarine berthed at Omara. Loyalties of numerous Paki army officers had been bought earlier without anybody being wiser and Chinese faced no opposition while they took a Pakistani general hostage inside his own country. They had then ordered the launch of remaining missiles and planned to escape under the confusion. But the swift retaliatory strikes by India had put a spanner to their plans. Additionally their submarine took some damage by the nuclear attack at Omara.
With most of their plan screwed up, Chinese had no further use left for Asgar and meant to execute him as soon as possible. But Mao and Asgar somehow overpowered their captors and had managed to shut themselves inside the cabin in same condition as the Indians had found them. To strengthen his claim, Rashid provided Indians with a memory card containing the captured communication between General Hu and his senior in CPC.

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