Somewhere South of Malaysia
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.