Monday, April 19, 2010

Dark Waves - Chapter 5

Arvind was enjoying his tea all alone, each and every person around knew how much he loved this after-noon tea, almost all communications, unofficially, used to wait until the tea-party was over. Often, he preferred to have his tea alone, walking by himself from one end to the other, distance was around 260 metres. Gently swaying surface under him was the most pleasing aspect of this evening walk, though, most of the common people would term the feeling as sea-sickness, he would always laugh at this term. As a Commanding Officer of INS Vikrant, he was from the rare breed of those who felt more comfortable in the ocean, rather than on dry land. INS Vikrant, the lead ship of Vikrant Class Aircraft Carriers was a 50,000 ton behemoth, the acres of Indian Sovereign Territory roaming freely across international waters keeping a close watch on enemies of the state. At any point of time, her deck was glistening from a squadron each of Mig-29K and Tejas, supported by 10 Kamov-31 submarine hunting helicopters. Though, she had number of defensive options to protect herself from hostile forces, however, with four armed-to-teeth escorts around her, it was not a good idea to come near her with hostile intentions. Out of four escorts, two were project 15A destroyers, INS Kolkata and INS Kochi, with 7000 tons of displacement, equipped with Brahmos cruise missile; this was a missile which could send chill across the spine of an adversary. It was the only super-sonic cruise missile which had been deployed, that too on just one class of naval ships around the globe, that was Kolkata Class of Guided Missile Destroyers. Other two escorts were project 17 Guided Missile Frigates, INS Shivalik and INS Sahyadri, the specialist of ASW ( anti-submarine warfare ), while destroyers were more focussed to neutralise air-threats, frigates had another responsibility, look for sub-surface threats, the enemy submarines.These 5,000 ton vessels were unique for their stealth features; they were meticulously designed to avoid detection by radars and sonars of enemy submarines. This was a CSG (Carrier-Strike-Group) of Southern Naval Command.

Most of the Vikrant Carrier-Strike-Group was home-ported at Kochi, it was Southern Naval Command. Out of seven vessels of the CSG, five had Kochi as their home-port. From the two remaining vessels, INS Aditya was a 35,000 ton Naval Tanker, home-ported at Karwar on west coast .It was an integral part of the CSG, as it provided fuel, replenishments along with maintenance to this CSG. However, the last and the seventh vessel of the CSG was not dependent on INS Aditya for its fuel supply because it was a nuclear-powered attack submarine, INS Shakti, the lead vessel of Shakti Class. It was a 5000 ton silent hunter killer submarine responsible for elimination of sub-surface threats to CSG. She was home-ported to Rambilli on east coast.

The area of operations for this CSG from southern naval command was spread across an arc starting from Madagascar to Sri Lanka, where lies-in-between, the nations of Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives. Anything in Arabian Sea was the head-ache of CSG with INS Vikramaditya as its flag-ship, while for the Bay of Bengal it was CSG with INS Viraat, sister ship of INS Vikrant, as its flag-ship. These two fleets, Arabian Fleet and Bengal Fleet were heavily focussed towards the two major adversaries, Pakistan and China. At any given point of time, at least three CSGs remained battle ready, while one Aircraft Carrier went in refit, as right now INS Vinayak was in dry-docks for a routine six-month refit at Karwar. In actual terms, CSG with INS Vikrant was the actual ocean going blue-water fleet; it was provider of maritime security across vast expanse of Indian Ocean, a very important constituent of Indian diplomacy for its look-east policy targeted towards countries of south east Asia. However, there was one other major task of this CSG and that was intelligence gathering and surveillance, keeping a close watch on enemy naval ships and submarines, passing through Indian Ocean.

At a distant, Arvind could see another flotilla of Indian Navy with a giant vessel at the center, but it was not an aircraft carrier, it was INS Airavat, a 28,000 ton Amphibious Carrier moving with its ASG (Amphibious Strike Group). As per the communications last night, after conclusion of an exercise with Russian Navy, this ASG was moving back from Andaman Nicobar Islands to its deployment region of Lakshadweep. With two Delhi class destroyers and two Talwar class frigates, even this ASG was a formidable one. Further, it was not without air cover, it had six Sea-Harriers VSTOL aircrafts on its deck to provide air cover to itself. However, the role of ASG was different than CSG, it was used for invasion of enemy territory by dropping the soldiers on their territory, either by troop-carrier helicopters or landing crafts. The Sea-Harrier aircrafts, INS Airavat carried was not for strike purpose, but they were for the defence of the ASG from enemy aircrafts.

At one point, INS Airavat was so close to INS Vikrant that Arvind was able to wave to Sunil Kamath, the Commanding Officer of INS Airavat. Arvind raised his cup of tea, in reply Sunil raised his vodka bottle, it was not his fault, sun was already on its down-course. Moreover, the stressful exercise Sunil had with Russian Heavy Cruiser Pyotr Velikyy has drained him of his energy. In the exercise Russian Cruiser had managed to sink half of his ASG but at the very end, two of the Sea-Harriers managed to score four direct-hits to the Cruiser. Russians were so annoyed to lose at the last-minute of the exercise and that had brought a huge respite to Sunil. Before, the two Sea-Harriers could land on INS Airavat, Sunil was done writing recommendations for those two pilots. He was a battle-hardened marine, not to take a defeat that easily, a bottle of pure Russian vodka presented to him by young Russian crew was must after the conclusion of such a stressful exercise.

As Sunil's ASG moved away from Arvind's CSG, a captain came running towards Arvind, it was still two sips left in his mug. As Captain came close, Arvind noticed that captain's face had gone white, he was sweating heavily. However, this sweat was not because of his running across the deck, it was because of a fear that has spread all over his face. Something was wrong somewhere, and it was very very wrong.

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