Combat Ready, Credible and Cohesive Force
Admiral Karambir Singh, the Chief of Naval Staff, in an interview with Aeromag Asia on the occasion of Navy Week 20019, says force levels are being augmented and modernised to sustain the full spectrum of roles and tasks defined for the Indian Navy, focussed on a combat ready, technology enabled and networked force, capable of projecting combat power. Excerpts from the interview:
Admiral, soon after you took over as the 24th CNS you gave us a hint of certain transitions, like the new protocol guidelines for equality among ranks with regard to formal luncheons. Could you give us some perspective on operational and strategic philosophy, your vision with regard to modernizing key weapons platforms – surface fleet, submarines, missiles and building assets and force levels?
Indian Navy is the primary manifestation of the nation’s maritime power, with its role being to safeguard and promote India’s security and interests in the maritime domain. Concomitant with the nation’s growing dependence on the seas for sustaining its economic rise, the role and responsibilities of the Navy are also expanding. In meeting this mandate, it is my firm belief that we must maintain focus on being a ‘Combat Ready, Credible and Cohesive Force’, capable of meeting present and future challenges that the nation may face.
Accordingly, Indian Navy is evolving continuously, both in terms of force structuring and operational philosophy, to meet emerging challenges. The modernisation of Indian Navy is fundamentally capability driven with, threat perceptions, prevailing external security environment, emerging technologies and availability of funds, being the drivers.
The expansion plan in future includes induction of aircraft carriers, state-of-the-art ships, modern submarines (both conventional and Nuclear powered), and induction of aviation assets. Further, development of technical and support infrastructure for maintenance of these new inductions is also being progressed.
Indian Navy aims to be a balanced multi-dimensional force with modern surface, sub-surface and air assets, capable of blue water and littoral operations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond to protect and promote our national interests. The present force levels are being augmented/ modernised to sustain the full spectrum of roles and tasks defined for the Indian Navy. Our efforts are focussed on a combat ready, technology enabled and networked force, capable of projecting combat power.
In the context of the geopolitical developments in the region and the Chinese White Paper on Peoples Liberation Army Navy’s quest for dominance in the Indian Ocean Region, how imperative is it for India to consolidate carrier battle groups – and invest on a third advanced aircraft carrier?
We are closely watching developments in relation to China in the region. The commissioning of the Chinese Military Base at Djibouti in 2017 has augmented its sustenance capability in the Indian Ocean. In 2018, an average of seven PLA (Navy) ships and submarines were deployed in the Indian Ocean Region every month. Chinese investments in various projects across IOR are also known.
The Indian Navy is aware of the security implications of the enhanced presence of Chinese ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region and maintains a constant and close watch on such developments. We are assessing our concept of operations and acquisition plans to cater to the challenges. The operational outcomes of developing strategic imperatives in the IOR are factored in our planning to ensure that the Indian Navy remains poised to meet all maritime contingencies.
There is no doubt that the aircraft carrier is central to Navy’s concept of operations and this has been articulated since many decades. The Navy would need three (to ensure two operational) aircraft carriers at all times to safeguard national maritime interests against the backdrop of changing geo-politics in the Indian Ocean Region. The Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) are undoubtedly the most credible source of power projection and provide freedom of operations in our vast sea areas.
You have revealed an intelligence alert on underwater saboteurs being trained by state-sponsored terror outfits in our neighbouring country. What are the new elements that you envisage for increased coastal security and how proactive is the participation of coastal communities and local agencies in this mission?
In terms of sub-conventional threats, the 2008 attacks at Mumbai are an example of the potential danger of sea-borne terror. The Indian Navy is cognisant of these dangers. Accordingly, our harbour infrastructure and defence of critical offshore installations have been progressively strengthened. The mechanisms for coastal security have also evolved significantly in the past decade. Several initiatives are being progressed to address these threats on an ongoing basis, in coordination with all stakeholders. While you would be aware of these initiatives, few recent initiatives include ExSEA VIGIL, which was a coastal security exercise conducted earlier this year on a pan-India basis for the first time, from which we have drawn some important lessons. Additionally, Proof-of-Concept trials of a transponder system for sub-20m boats have been successfully completed, and the system will be rolled out in a phased manner soon. We are also steering a National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA) Project, which aims at integrating all maritime stakeholders and associated databases.
In terms of conventional threats, development of a balanced multi-dimensional force is aimed at enabling capability of undertaking a broad range of missions. Our ships and aircraft are mission deployed and combat ready to undertake operations across the entire spectrum of warfare at short notice.
The coastal communities have been integrated into the coastal security construct as the ‘eyes and ears’ of security agencies, and maritime security agencies continue to engage with the community through interactive programmes. However, there is a need to further consolidate these efforts so that any anomaly detected by the community, such as in our fishing harbours and fish landing centres, is reported to security agencies without delay.
On maritime security, now that we have an ongoing Operation Sankalp in the Gulf of Oman, Persian Gulf region, what are the new challenges that we face in supporting Indian-flagged vessels in certain sensitive regions?
The attacks on merchant ships in the Gulf region in the middle of this year, have highlighted vulnerability of sea-borne trade transiting through choke points. The Gulf region is a critical source of energy not only for India but the entire globe. Majority of trade emanating from the Gulf is also external to the region.
The Indian Navy has been closely monitoring the developing geo-political situation in the Gulf region, and based on the threat assessment, Operation SANKALP was launched in June 19 with an aim to ensure the safe transit of Indian Flag Merchant Vessels through the Straits of Hormuz. Indian Naval warships were immediately deployed in the Gulf region to establish our presence, provide reassurance to the Indian merchant marine, as well to monitor the situation and respond to any emergent crises.
Operation SANKALP is being progressed in close coordination with all stakeholders including the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gases, the Ministry of Shipping, the Director General Shipping and the Director General Petroleum Policy and Analysis Cell. Thus far, seven Indian Naval ships and one aircraft have been deployed for Operation SANKALP, which resulted in safe transit of 74 Indian Flag Merchant Vessels through the region, amounting to approximately 82 lakh tonnes of sea-borne trade. After the initial deployment over the last few months of sustained deployment, we have learnt invaluable lessons, which have been incorporated into our operational philosophy.
You speak of huge investments on Indian shipyards being ploughed back the country’s economy and nation building, and now that about 50 warships and submarines are being constructed indigenously under the Strategic Partnership Model, what is the update on the Navy Project – 75 India?
The policy on Strategic Partnership (SP) Model was promulgated on May 31, 2017. Acceptance of Necessity for the P75(I) project was accorded on January 31, 2019. Thereafter, the Request for Expression of Interest for shortlisting of SPs and Foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) was issued on June 20, and July 02, 2019 respectively. The response from prospective SPs have been received on September 11, 2019. The responses of Foreign OEMs have been received on September 24, 2019. Presently, the replies of both the SP’s and Foreign OEM are being evaluated for the final shortlisting, prior issuance of the Request for Proposal.
You are the most senior naval aviator and the first helicopter pilot to helm the Indian naval force – what are the most exciting thing that’s happening at the Air Arm of Indian Navy, and our Utility Helicopters, surveillance drones?
The Indian Navy’s Air Arm is poised for a quantum growth over the next few years.
There is a comprehensive plan to augment the number and enhance the capability of ship-borne helicopters through midlife upgrades and role enhancement on the existing fleet of Kamov 28 and Sea King 42B. Procurement of eight Chetak and sixteen ALH helicopters to enhance Coastal Security has commenced. Further, we also have plans to procure additional multirole helicopters to meet ship-borne helicopter requirements.
To meet Deck Based Fighter requirements, a RFI for MRCBF (Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter) has been hosted on the MoD website. The case is being progressed in accordance with DPP-16. Further, a case for MiG 29K midlife upgrade is being progressed. Delivery of four additional P-8I will commence from Apr 2020 onwards. The Government has also accorded AON for six additional P8Is.
We have added four new Dornier aircraft ex HAL this year; four are scheduled to be inducted by end of this year. We have also commissioned new Dornier Air Squadrons at Meenambakkam, Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and Porbandar (Gujarat). At the same time, we are progressively upgrading our air infrastructure at Naval air bases across the country, as well as on the islands territories.
In addition to Dornier aircraft, we are extensively utilising RPAs for coastal surveillance. Three RPA Squadrons have been commissioned at Kochi, Porbandar and Ramnad. Procurement of HALE RPAS as a joint tri-Service case is also on the cards.