By Capt DK Sharma (Retd)
As we bid goodbye to 2019, its time to delve deeper into the challenges which the silent arm of the state i.e., the Indian Navy (IN) has to deal with in the coming years. The Indian Navy has been doing extremely well as far as its mandated role is concerned i.e., keeping a strict vigil in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), her primary area of responsibility. She has earned herself a name as the First Responder, whether it be a crisis situation following the Cyclone IDAI hitting Mozambique or swinging into action to provide succour and relief to the affected populace in HADR situations closer home (to the littorals).
It has been very effective in deploying her assets over the last two years in mission-ready mode also called as the Mission-Based Deployments (MBD), a relatively new concept which has proved to be very rewarding in the overall scheme of things. Coupled with the network centricity in operations, the navy has a fair knowledge of the maritime domain in the IOR. This has helped in restricting, if not totally stopping illegal activities in their area of operations.
Now, comes the moot question or the first challenge which the Navy faces: How is the Indian Navy going to sustain this tempo of having a few major assets deployed 24X7?
The planners would have to ensure that Indian fleets (Eastern and Western) are battle-ready at all times in spite of all these so-called extra taskings/ duties which have become a routine and have also been endorsed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (SAGAR & First Responder in IOR) in various fora.
So, to start with, the first and foremost challenge is to ensure that ships and aircraft are available at all times and this would have an impact on the revenue budget as well. Putting out a man-of-war to sea costs money and strains/burdens the budget.
The next challenge is to continue with the exercises with regional and extra-regional Navies. In the year gone past the Indian Navy has participated in more than 30 multi-lateral and bilateral exercises. These exercises are a platform to consolidate diverse operating procedures (inter-operability) and an opportunity to exchange best practices at sea. With the changing geostrategic equations in the Indo-Pacific, it is incumbent on Indian Navy to continue with these exercises more vigorously so as to be comfortable, should there be a need to operate together for a common bigger cause. Here again, there would be a stress on the limited resources and thus needs to be factored in the overall scheme of things.
Coming to the quintessential topic of force building– the Indian Navy has a huge challenge to channelize its plans for the future as also to monitor the progress of projects that are in the pipeline and nearing completion. Any delays and change in strategy would mean time and cost overruns which the Navy can ill afford at this juncture when every penny is precious.
Top of the pecking order is the much-awaited deal to acquire Multi-role helicopters from the US. The lack of multi-role helicopters in the Indian Navy is a matter of huge concern. The MRH is a force multiplier and plays a very crucial role in Anti-Submarine warfare. Besides, they are a potent platform which provides eyes and ears to the fleet well in advance (reference is to Air Early Warning role).
The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), a much talked about the project under construction at Cochin Shipyard, Kochi is already behind schedule and needs to be taken up in right earnest. The biggest challenge for the Indian Navy and the shipbuilder at this juncture is to ensure that the ship meets all the planned milestones and put her out to sea for trials as per the revised forecast. Looking out for the Aviation complex and associated facilities and the fighters is another challenge which can’t be ignored at this stage.
On-time delivery of under-construction Stealth Destroyers (Project 15B- Visakhapatnam Class) at Mazagon Docks Ltd., (MDL) Mumbai is yet another challenge and its time that the construction of the first ship of the lot is timely with all the desired weapons and sensors package in place.
Mine Counter Measure capability of the Indian Navy has eroded with the paying off of all the minesweepers ( acquired from erstwhile USSR) held in the inventory over the past few years. This is a major handicap in case the hostilities break out and should the adversary mine the approaches to our major/ minor ports. Though the Indian Navy has alternate arrangements (organic sweeps) to counter this threat, a long term solution is the need of the hour and needs to be addressed at war footing. A case for making Minesweepers at Goa Shipyard Ltd. Goa with a Transfer of Technology (TOT) (under Buy & Make category of DPP 2016) has been doing the rounds but nothing concrete has happened.
At present, the Indian Navy has 52 ships and submarines on order to various DPSU shipyards and private shipbuilders (except two which are being built in Russia). The pace of construction of many amongst them is far from satisfactory. One of the many reasons cited for the delays is the paucity of funds. With depleting Naval Budget (reduced from 18% to 13% of the Defence outlay over the last few years), the challenge for the Naval leadership in the coming year is to make funds available to the yards and ensure that the ships and submarines are delivered on schedule.
A majority of Naval fleet ships, submarines and aircraft are ageing and timely replacements are a necessity to maintain the minimum force levels. The tasking of Indian Navy has been unprecedented over the last two years with the changing maritime equations in the Indo-Pacific. Whether be it the long-awaited fourth P-28 ASW frigate from GRSE, Kolkata, third P-75 Scorpene submarine from MDL Mumbai, the stealth destroyers of P 15 B and five OPVs at the RDEL, Gujarat amongst others, it’s time for the Navy to channelize its resources to maintain the supremacy in its Area of Responsibility as also not to lose focus on the force modernization. The delays in replacing old platforms have multiple effects on the overall scheme of things as they demand more resources for maintenance and are not very effective in their desired roles.
(The author is former spokesperson, Indian Navy/Ministry of Defence. Views expressed are personal.)
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Source: Financial Express