Eternal Vigil in Blue Waters
There is an ever- increasing presence of extra-regional military forces in the Indian Ocean Region. The Indian Navy is keeping a close watch on these activities to ensure that this does not manifest in any threat to our maritime interests, says Admiral Sunil Lanba PVSM, AVSM, ADC, Chief of Naval Staff. “While we keep evolving our strategies to deal with these conventional military challenges, sub-conventional threats such as piracy and maritime terrorism continue to engage our forces on a day-to-day basis,” he says. Admiral Lanba shares his thoughts with Aeromag Asia.
Indian Navy is among the strongest sea forces in the world, playing a major role in defending India’s sovereignty as well as protecting the country’s economic interests. Against this background, could you analyse the major challenges Indian Navy is facing today, including conventional and sub-conventional threats?
I tend to agree with you that the security concerns in the maritime domain do appear to be on the rise. To my mind, the conventional maritime security challenges can be attributed to a lack of transparency in intent. As we have seen in certain parts of the world, over-nationalistic attitudes or attempts to undermine the established conflict resolution mechanisms could lead to unwarranted upheavals in international relations. This type of behaviour could prove catalytic in a kind of action-reaction chain which is counterproductive to overall peace and stability. There is also an ever-increasing presence of extra-regional military forces in the Indian Ocean Region. The Indian Navy is keeping a close watch on these activities to ensure that this does not manifest in any threat to our maritime interests. While we keep evolving our strategies to deal with these conventional military challenges, sub-conventional threats such as piracy and maritime terrorism continue to engage our forces on a day-to-day basis. A nexus between maritime terrorism and piracy with drug smuggling, gun running, and human trafficking is a distinct possibility today. As the professional maritime military force of a responsible nation, we remain mindful of these changes in the security environment and are always ready to execute our tasks proactively and comprehensively.
Indian Navy is engaged in modernization in line with its growing importance in the oceans around the world, especially in Asia Pacific. However, China is also engaged in a massive reconstruction of its Navy, seeking to play a bigger role in the region. In this scenario, could you tell us about Indian Navy’s plans for new inductions to the fleet as well as armoury?
The Indian Navy’s force-level accretion plans cater for the numbers as well as the specific capabilities that are required to secure our national maritime interests against all existing and emerging threats. Pursuance of such plans has made it possible for the Indian Navy to emerge as a multi-dimensional and a capable force with a balanced mix of surface, sub-surface and air assets. The Indian Navy presently has a force level of 139 ships and submarines and 224 aircraft. Today, we have the capability to build, operate and maintain sophisticated platforms such as aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Work on the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-1 (IAC-1) is progressing well and I am hopeful that the ship would join the Navy by 2020. Commissioning of Kalvari, the first of the Project-75 submarines, is scheduled this year and we would further consolidate the submarine arm with the induction of remaining submarines under this project. The naval aviation arm will concurrently be bolstered by induction of new fighters, surveillance aircrafts and shipborne helicopters. Indigenisation and self-reliance continues to be the focus of all our force accretion programmes and new policy reforms, such as the Strategic Partnership Model, would go a long way in consolidating the domestic expertise.
INS Kalvari, the first in Scorpene class stealth submarines, has been handed over to the Indian Navy. The programme has seen considerable delay owing to several reasons. Have the issues been sorted out and will the other submarines of the class be inducted as planned?
You would recall that two Shishumar class submarines were built at MDL, Mumbai in the early nineties in collaboration with M/s HDW, Germany. After a gap of more than 20 years, the same shipyard is now constructing the Kalvari class submarines with a French collaborator. The design and the technologies used on this platform are quite advanced. Therefore, one would appreciate that the construction and trials of the first boat of this class would have had several new challenges. Considerable efforts have been made by all stakeholders to ensure that the lessons learnt from the first boat are addressed proactively. I am confident that the subsequent deliveries would be much faster.
Construction of the new INS Vikrant, the country’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, is going on at Cochin Shipyard. How do you assess the work?
I recently visited IAC-1 which is presently under construction at Kochi and observed that significant progress has been made in recent months. The construction and outfitting activities are at quite an advanced stage. We are hopeful of commencing the trials next year. We must appreciate that this is the first-ever aircraft carrier being built in the country. Therefore, the trials would be elaborate and could take a considerable amount of time. We should expect the IAC-1 to join the Navy as a fully combat-worthy platform in a couple of years from now.
A third aircraft carrier is a crucial requirement of Indian Navy to strengthen the naval defence of the country. Could you shed more light onto the present status of this project?
The design and construction of an aircraft carrier is a highly demanding process. Choices have to be made on several parameters such as the type and capabilities of the carrier-borne aircraft, the choice of propulsion, overall tonnage and speed. Each of these aspects also bear upon the overall financial implications. We have, therefore, invested a lot of time and effort within the Navy in resolving these issues. We have also consulted several subject matter experts on the design aspects. Of late, there have been some new technological advancements in the field of carrier construction that have further expanded the options available for propulsion machinery and several other shipborne systems. We are evaluating all these options with due consideration to financial prudence and operational necessities. We have approached the Government to seek a go ahead for this project and we are hopeful that IAC-2 will be a step forward from the configuration of IAC-1.
Indian Navy’s air fleet has been in need of expansion, but plans like induction of Naval version of HAL’s Tejas did not work out. What are the other options the Navy is considering?
You must be aware that the RFI for the carrier-borne fighters has been issued in the beginning of this year. All leading manufacturers of this type of aircraft have evinced a keen interest in the project. Based on the internal evaluation, we will soon finalise the best option for the Navy and the case would thereafter progress as per the stipulated timelines.
As part of its ‘Look East Policy’, Indian Navy regularly conducts visits to countries in Asia Pacific and receives ships of Navies of those nations. Frequent joint exercises also take place. Could you elaborate on some of the notable advantages the country has gained from these interactions?
The Indian Navy regularly interacts with other navies and maritime agencies in our areas of interest to develop greater interoperability and coordination. Port visits, bilateral exercises and other professional interactions provide an opportunity at the functional level to learn from each other. The Navy also undertakes coordinated patrols and joint surveillance missions with many of our maritime neighbours. Such joint efforts have significantly contributed towards creating a positive maritime environment around us and enhance the sense of security and stability in the Indian Ocean Region.
Indian Navy has played a major role in curtailing piracy off the Somalian coast. Could you elaborate on the successful anti-piracy operations and assess the present situation in the area?
The Indian Navy has maintained continuous presence in the Gulf of Aden since 2008 to counter piracy off the Horn of Africa. Our ships have thwarted a total of 34 piracy attempts so far including the last incident on October 6, 2017 wherein INS Trishul has foiled a piracy attempt on MV Jag Amar which had 26 Indian seafarers onboard. While the incidents of piracy were observed to be low over the last few years, this year we have seen some indications of a possible re-emergence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. We are closely monitoring the situation in coordination with other stakeholders and our ships continue to patrol those waters.
With the Central Government vigorously implementing the ‘Make in India’ policy, could you tell us about the Navy’s plans to boost indigenisation of its requirements, including ships, submarines, aircrafts, equipment and weapons?
In consonance with the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the blueprint for the future Navy is firmly anchored on indigenisation and self-reliance. The Indian Navy has a roadmap for indigenisation which covers a 15 years’ period. To execute our long-term plans, the Indian Navy seeks to establish a ‘Centre for Indigenisation and Self Reliance’ (CISR) to steer all our indigenisation efforts.
The Navy has been constantly interacting with the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Public Sector Undertakings and private industry to align the developmental work with the Navy’s priorities. Over the past few years, many important systems and equipment, spares and sub-assemblies have been developed indigenously, including most of our underwater sensors and weapons as well as electronic surveillance systems. Joint development projects like BrahMos and MRSAM have added to the indigenous content in surface and air warfare systems. The Combat Management Systems and Communication backbone on board most of our modern platforms are completely indigenous.
In addition, a total of 34 ships and submarines presently under construction are all being built in Indian shipyards. Several other policy reforms such as the introduction of ‘Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured (IDDM)’ category under the Buy Indian category of DPP-16, Strategic Partnership Model etc. are complementary to the ‘Make in India’ vision and the Indian Navy is bound to gain significantly from these reforms.
The Government is now encouraging private industries in India to take part in defence production. Following which, several big business groups have ventured into the defence sector and started manufacturing of equipment, missiles etc. Could you explain Indian Navy’s initiatives to partner with private enterprises – big as well as medium and small?
The Indian Navy has been associated with private industry for several years now. Our association with the private sector is not just limited to construction of ships or high-end weapon systems but runs into several other areas from marine equipment to IT systems. On a macro scale, participation by private shipyards in shipbuilding projects has helped in sharing the increased workload of the DPSU shipyards and increasing the overall domestic warship building capabilities. Some of the developmental projects which are being carried out by the DRDO for the Navy also involve private sector expertise. Among the projects under the ‘Make’ category, many are funded by the DRDO’s Technology Development Fund. We are also looking at standardising most of the shipborne auxiliary equipment. These are not weapon systems, but marine grade equipment which are used on several commercial ships also. There is a growing need of modern electronics and telecommunication systems that may not be too different from commercial products. Here, the MSMEs have a significant scope for participation owing to economy of scale. Therefore, entrepreneurs of all kinds would have ample opportunities to offer their products to the Navy. Our interaction with the industry is consistently supported by business facilitators such as FICCI, ASSOCHAM, etc. As the domestic industry matures, the Indian Navy would find itself to be in a better position to manage its routine logistics and maintenance demands.