New Delhi: The Indian Navy’s areas of interest encompass the IOR and its adjunct waters. China has enhanced its deployments in the IOR over the recent past. The Indian Navy maintains a constant and close watch on developments, fine tunes concept of operations and formulates capability perspective plans in step with the strategic scenario and in keeping with India’s national interests. The Indian Navy’s military preparedness and capability accretion plans are founded in our national interests, and not against any one nation.
As a professional force, we evaluate the maritime security environment in the IOR, on a continuous basis. The outcomes of these evaluations are factored in the Navy’s planning to ensure that the Indian Navy remains poised to deter and counter threats, said Admiral R Hari Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff.
In an interview with Aeromag Online, the CNS talks about the Navy’s preparedness to counter China, Navy’s modernisation and indigenisation activities.
1. India’s maritime diplomacy has considerably enhanced under the SAGAR initiative as the preferred security partner in the IOR. How does the Indian Navy support the initiative and help in ensuring stability and promoting maritime interests in the region?
Admiral R Hari Kumar: GoI’s ‘SAGAR’ and ‘Neighbourhood First’ clearly indicates the importance of peace and stability in the neighbourhood and its contribution to India’s growth and development in the 21st century. We have also stated clearly that India would like to grow in a way that allows others in the region to also grow with us. Establishing a regional environment conducive to nation-building and economic consolidation necessitates active engagement with regional nations, not only to enhance trust but also to protect and promote India’s core national interests in the region.
As you are all aware, the first word in SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is Security, thus, underscoring the centrality of Security for growth and prosperity. The Indian Navy (IN) has undertaken numerous initiatives collectively with like-minded littorals towards ensuring maritime security. Primary amongst these is the large number of bilateral and multilateral exercises that the IN undertakes.
These exercises aid in enhancing interoperability, exchanging best practices, and building trust. These are essential during emergent challenges, like a natural disaster or a Search and Rescue situation, where navies work together towards achieving common goals. Despite the limitations of the pandemic, the IN undertook 22 such exercises over the past year. Further, in co-ordination with neighbouring navies, the IN undertook four Co-ordinated patrols and EEZ surveillance missions, which have given a fillip to regional maritime security.
The Indian Navy acknowledges the importance of dialogue in driving collaborative solutions. Towards this end, the IN conducted the Goa Maritime Conclave where apex leadership of littoral navies congregated to discuss common challenges and forge solutions through dialogue. The IN also remains invested in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), towards enhancing the regional security architecture of the Indian Ocean Region. These initiatives contribute positively towards maintaining security and stability across the seascape of the Indian Ocean and bolster the PM’s vision of SAGAR.
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2. The modernisation of Navy is ongoing but the pace needs to be increased. What are the latest modernisation plans of the Navy and how important is it to be completed fast?
Admiral Hari Kumar: The Indian Navy’s modernisation and expansion follows a long-term perspective plan being enmeshed into the ICADS process, focused on being a future-ready force, with the capability and capacity to meet evolving challenges. We currently have 39 ships and submarines under construction, with Indian shipyards building 37 of these, contributing significantly to the Government’s AatmaNirbhar Bharat initiative.
One of our key projects is the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier being built at Cochin Shipyard Limited, Kochi. The ship has undergone extensive sea-trials, and is scheduled to be commissioned in mid-2022, giving a major fillip to the Navy’s ability to protect, preserve and promote our national interests.
Among other major projects, M/s MDL are building four Project 15B destroyers, of which, the first ship viz. INS Visakhapatnam was commissioned on 21 Nov 2021. Seven frigates of Project 17A Class, scheduled for induction from 2022 onwards, are also under construction at MDL and GRSE. Further, sixteen Anti-Submarine Warfare Shallow Water Craft have also been contracted. Among submarine projects, the fourth submarine of six under Project 75 viz. INS Vela was commissioned on 25 Nov 2021.
Apart from vessels under construction, ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ has also been accorded for another 43 ships and six Project 75 (I) Submarines to be built in India. In the aerospace domain, HAL has been awarded a contract to deliver 12 Dorniers, 16 ALH and eight Chetak. Further, AoN also exist for procurement of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters under the Strategic Partnership Model.
The Indian Navy is working closely with DRDO and the Indian industry to enhance the technological base in the country. Concurrently, there is also a need to enhance the capacity and expertise of our public sector shipyards to reduce build-times, and also involve the private sector to make good current short-falls in our force levels. Naval force modernisation and force accretion is a slow and deliberate process, and the Indian Navy has continued to focus on self-reliance and indigenous solutions in its endeavours.
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3. How does Indian Navy counter the military preparedness of China, which is increasing its presence in the blue waters?
Admiral Hari Kumar: Indian Navy’s areas of interest encompass the IOR and its adjunct waters. China has enhanced its deployments in the IOR over the recent past. The Indian Navy maintains a constant and close watch on developments, fine tunes concept of operations and formulates capability perspective plans in step with the strategic scenario and in keeping with India’s national interests.
The Indian Navy’s military preparedness and capability accretion plans are founded in our national interests, and not against any one nation. As a professional force, we evaluate the maritime security environment in the IOR, on a continuous basis. The outcomes of these evaluations are factored in our planning to ensure that the Indian Navy remains poised to deter and counter threats. Our unique geographic location bestows upon us unmatched advantage in the maritime domain as we sit astride some of the world’s most critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs). Our force-modernisation is underway, based on our needs and assessments, without any desire to match other navies’ force levels, platform for platform.
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4. The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) has commenced it sea trials. How crucial an asset is the IAC for the Navy and when can we expect its commissioning?
Admiral Hari Kumar: Aircraft carriers are central to our Navy’s concept of operations and the Indian Navy considers carriers as central to safeguard national maritime interests against the backdrop of changing geo-politics in the IOR and beyond. The Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs) are a significant source of power projection and provide freedom of manoeuvre in the vast area of operations or interest.
The first maiden sea voyage in Aug 2021 was a check sortie for trials of hull, navigation and communication propulsion systems. These trials have established confidence in the ship design as the ship handling during the sortie was exceptionally good. This was followed by the second Sea Trials sortie in end Oct – early Nov 2021 as an endurance sortie. Trials have progressed as planned and system parameters have proved to be satisfactory. The carrier would continue to undergo further sea trials to comprehensively benchmark performance of equipment and systems prior handing over the ship to the Indian Navy. Delivery and commissioning of IAC I is being planned as part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, celebrations to commemorate 75th anniversary of India’s independence.
5. How does the Navy support the indigenisation and AatmaNirbhar Bharat? How does the decision to promote indigenisation and discourage imports affect the Navy’s procurement and acquisition plans?
Admiral Hari Kumar: The Indian Navy has been a proponent of self-reliance and indigenisation through emphasis on ship and submarines construction, manufacturing of weapons and systems, import substitution etc. It is worth mentioning that in the last five financial years, more than two-thirds of the Navy’s modernisation budget has been spent on indigenous procurement. It is a matter of great pride that 95% of the ships and submarines on order are being built at Indian shipyards. Currently, 37 of 39 ships and submarines are being built in Indian shipyards.
We have introduced multiple schemes for encouraging/ boosting domestic manufacturing. Under the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020, capital procedures such as the Make Schemes, Technology Development Fund (TDF) and Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) have built-in provisions to give an impetus to indigenisation. Multiple contracts have been concluded/ progressed under these schemes for promoting enhanced domestic production.
In order to boost production of defence equipment as part of ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat’, we have promulgated two positive lists, which include 209 items. In addition, the Navy is progressing indigenisation under the revenue budget at all levels to cater for operational requirements. The larger focus of this belief and drive towards self-reliance is to be able to deliver security solutions to our immediate maritime region and thus further create relationships that will support our cooperative outlook for the region.
6. What impact did the COVID pandemic have on Navy’s operations? What are Navy’s contributions in fighting the pandemic?
Admiral Hari Kumar: There has been no change in our tempo of operations towards ensuring maritime security of the Nation. The Navy remains combat-ready and is fully capable of undertaking missions across the spectrum of naval operations. This includes augmenting the national mission to fight the pandemic and supporting our friendly neighbours in the IOR. Our assets continue to be Mission-Deployed, covering a vast oceanic swath from the Straits of Malacca in the East to Bab-el-Mandeb in the West. Our Intelligence & Surveillance (ISR) assets continue to maintain full-spectrum domain awareness for real-time compilation of operational picture in the entire IOR. The Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) and Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) also contribute towards maintaining situational awareness in our area of operations.
Due to its inherent agility and reach, the Indian Navy plays an important role in mitigation of many HADR situations. The Covid-19 pandemic brought to fore unprecedented challenges for the entire nation including the Services. Since its outbreak in early 2020, the Indian Navy has been at the forefront of fighting the pandemic and has assisted the national cause wholeheartedly. During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a requirement to evacuate stranded Indian nationals from various countries. The Indian Navy launched Op Samudra Setu in May 2020 and Indian Naval Ships evacuated 3,992 Indian Nationals including 3,551 men, 387 women and 54 children from Iran, Maldives and Sri Lanka.
In end April 2021, when the extraordinary surge of the second wave of Covid-19 put pressure on country’s health infrastructure and capacity, the Indian Navy launched Operation Samudra Setu-II to augment the national effort for meeting medical oxygen requirements. Indian Navy warships were deployed for shipment of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) filled containers, concentrators, PPE, COVID test kits, Ventilators and other medical equipment from Friendly Foreign Countries from Persian Gulf to South East Asia. Indian Naval Ships ferried critical stores from Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Oman, UAE and Vietnam. Deployed for nearly two months, the ships transported 1,150 Metric Tons of LMO and 319.40 KL Oxygen in cylinders along with other medical aid like Oxygen concentrators (173), RAD Test Kits (10,000), PPEs (450) and Ventilators (140), contributing significantly to the national effort in the battle against the pandemic.
Closer home, the Indian Navy set up an Oxygen Express for Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands. Medical aid, including oxygen, was regularly transported to the islands, to assist the local population. No effort was spared to support the local administration, even when cyclone Tauktae was unleashing its fury in the region. Additionally, Area Commanders maintained close liaison with Chief Secretaries and District Collectors to provide support in terms of movement of essential medicines and supplies. IN aircraft have ferried doctors, face-masks, sanitisers, COVID-19 samples, test-kits etc across the country. Our various units have also been proactive in providing food and assistance to the needy, in vicinity.
The Navy also facilitated COVID vaccination of civilians at some locations to augment civil efforts. Spare capacity in terms of COVID beds were also extended to civil administration at various naval hospitals and oxygen manifolds were used to service additional beds. Personnel from the Navy were deputed for duties at COVID hospitals established at New Delhi, Patna, Ahmedabad and Kavaratti Island for providing aid to civil population. This included 58 doctors, 30 nursing officers, 64 medical assistants and 62 Battle Field Nursing Assistants (BFNAs).
In response to requests from Friendly Foreign Countries (FFCs) and maritime neighbours, Indian Navy ships undertook trans-shipment of LMO and other medical equipment to ten nations in IOR and SCS under Mission SAGAR.
7. China is increasing its presence in the blue waters. How strong is the naval aviation arm to counter China’s military preparedness?
Admiral Hari Kumar: I would like to reiterate that the Indian Navy’s deployments, operational missions, and capability accretions are not against any one nation but are in support of national interests in the maritime domain. That being said, I will highlight a few facets of the Indian Navy’s aviation arm.
P8I has proven its ASW capability in various exercises including multilateral exercises. These exercises have been held in different parts of the world, exposing the P 8I crew to varied underwater profiles. The MH 60R helicopters are poised to add more teeth to the Navy’s organic ASW capabilities. Naval Aviation also has extensive experience in operating RPAs.
Operations of RPA and P8Is have made it possible to carry out persistent surveillance across the entire IOR, with real-time information flow. Our aviation assets play an important role in assisting FFCs in their efforts to carry out surveillance in their own EEZs.
Naval aviation assets have been regularly participating with like-minded partner countries to enhance interoperability. In addition, numerous proactive steps including Subject Matter Experts Exchange (SMEE) are being undertaken to plan exercises, understand the concept of operations including the latest technology being utilised on platforms.
Indian Navy fighter aircraft have distinguished themselves in numerous international exercises involving large force engagements. The integrated fleet air defence exercises and offensive missions have been fine tuned to prepare for envisaged scenarios. The Air Early Warning assets along with carrier borne fighters provide the required punch to support our Fleets operating in the IOR. The weapon/ sensor suite of the MiG 29K is also being upgraded by both the indigenous route as well through acquisition of specific technologies/ capabilities.
The in-house flight testing capabilities have enabled the Indian Navy to embark on a plan to continuously assess and upgrade the weapon and sensor fit of its aircraft. Naval aviation has been modernising and expanding with the clear aim of providing surveillance as well as ability to prosecute targets in all three dimensions in our areas of interest.
Further, Indian Navy continuously evaluates developments in the maritime domain. The outcomes of these evaluations are dovetailed into existing plans to ensure currency and relevance. These outcomes are also used to crystal gaze and identify capabilities required in the future.