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The ‘eye’ keeps vigil at sea

G. Anand
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RARE OPPORTUNITY:People throng Vizhinjam port on Sunday to visit INS Kalpeni, Indian Navy’s latest fast attack craft.— Photo: S. Mahinsha
RARE OPPORTUNITY:People throng Vizhinjam port on Sunday to visit INS Kalpeni, Indian Navy’s latest fast attack craft.— Photo: S. Mahinsha

Rain or shine, day or night, the electronic eye of the 30 mm cannon jutting out menacingly from the prow of INS Kalpeni never flinches.

Anchored to a stabilising platform, the “eye” can pick up any object, moving or stationary, that comes within a range of 10 km of the Indian Navy’s latest fast attack craft, which docked at the Vizhinjam harbour here on Sunday to allow citizens an onboard view of its fighting capabilities.

The “eye” stood the vessel in good stead when it was deployed for anti-piracy operations, Operation Island Watch, west of the Lakshadweep archipelago in January last year. It helped INS Kalpeni riddle a Somali pirate ship with accurate cannon fire before its crew boarded the incapacitated vessel, disarmed the pirates and freed the hostages.

Perched on the high-mounted captain’s swivel chair on the ship’s air-conditioned bridge, Lieutenant Commander Vikas Jha says INS Kalpeni’s powerful water jet propulsion engines give “her” rapid acceleration, up to 70 km an hour on high seas, and enviable manoeuvrability during combat.

Its shallow draft enables it to operate in waters close to the shore.

His second-in-command, 27-year-old Lieutenant G. Avinash Murthy, a deep sea diver with two years of submarine experience, also doubles up as the ship’s gunner.

The ship’s primary weapon is a Russian-designed 30 mm automatic cannon capable of firing 30 mm shells, including high explosives rounds which explode on impact. The cannon fires single shots and three-round salvos.

The onboard firing drill starts with the gunner letting loose “warm up” shots to “double check” the gun’s mechanism, followed by “observatory shots” to determine where the shells fall, and finally the “kill shots” after the “eye” acquires the targets and locks on to it “like a leach”.

The gun’s cupola accommodates two gunners to operate the cannon manually in case the “eye” takes a hit or the automatic firing mechanism fails.

The ship has 50 men on board and is fitted with desalination and sewage treatment plants. Combatants on board the vessel are armed with medium and light machine guns, shoulder-fired missile launchers to combat “close proximity” aerial threats and assault rifles and automatic pistols for close quarter combat. On sorties, the crew constantly drill themselves to carry out “Visit, Board and Search Operations.”

It took less than six hours for INS Kalpeni to reach Vizhinjam from Kochi port. Captain Jha says the sailing time can be drastically reduced if the ship sails at combat speed.

INS Kalpeni will set sail for Kochi on Monday.

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