How Just One Simple Human Error Almost Destroyed a Missile Submarine

    Task and Purpose, Jared Keller

    Security, Asia

    It could have been a tragedy…all because someone left a hatch open. 

    The modern submarine is not a simple machine. A loss of propulsion, unexpected flooding, or trouble with reactors or weapons can doom a sub crew to a watery grave.

    Also, it’s a good idea to, like, close the hatches before you dive.

    Call it a lesson learned for the Indian navy, which managed to put the country’s first nuclear-missile submarine, the $ 2.9 billion INS Arihant, out of commission in the most boneheaded way possible.

    The Hindu reported yesterday that the Arihant has been out of commission since suffering “major damage” some 10 months ago, due to what a navy source characterized as a “human error” — to wit: allowing water to flood to sub’s propulsion compartment after failing to secure one of the vessel’s external hatches.

    Water “rushed in as a hatch on the rear side was left open by mistake while [the Arihant] was at harbor” in February 2017, shortly after the submarine’s launch, The Hindu reports. Since then, the sub “has been undergoing repairs and clean up,” according to the paper: “Besides other repair work, many pipes had to be cut open and replaced.”

    It’s hard to articulate how major a screw-up this is, but Kyle Mizokami does a good job at Popular Mechanics: Indian authorities ordered the pipe replacement because they “likely felt that pipes exposed to corrosive seawater couldn’t be trusted again, particularly pipes that carry pressurized water coolant to and from the ship’s 83 megawatt nuclear reactor.” For context, a submarine assigned to Britain’s Royal Navy narrowly avoided a complete reactor meltdown in 2012 after the power sources for its coolant system failed.

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