The Indian Navy has been leading the indigenisation efforts among the services. The navy has recently commissioned India’s first indigenously built 45,000-tonne Indian aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant which is so far the most complex military platform that India has built beside the LCA Tejas for the Indian Air Force. Again, the commissioning of INS Vagir, India’s fifth Scorpene-class submarine, puts the Navy in the coveted league of countries. The navy’s capacity building stretches the entire range of warships from corvettes to frigates to stealth destroyers.
In addition to the diesel-electric conventional submarine, the navy has pushed the boundaries in the areas of nuclear ballistic missile submarines. The Indian navy has planned a total of four vessels in the nuclear class, the first two being INS Arihant and INS Arighat. Arighat, the lead submarine in the class, was launched in 2021 and has been undergoing extensive trials for some time. Several reports indicate that it will be inducted in the next few months.
India’s overall security framework also has plans for two Arihant-class submarines that complete India’s nuclear triad, capable of carrying the nuclear-tipped, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) – K-15 ‘Sagarika’ and K-4.
The naval budget and economic growth
Yet, the naval budget remains at the fringe of the overall defence budget. The only exception is in last year’s budget where the navy saw its share of the budget being rationalised from a mere 12 percent to 18 percent. The total budget for the Indian Navy for 2022-2023 is Rs 47,590 crore, but is the lowest among the services. That is insufficient.
The decision to raise the budget was purely based on the fact that India’s maritime roles and responsibilities are so vast in the scheme of the Indo-Pacific strategy. Besides security, it is about the maritime economy which puts the navy at the centre even during peacetime.
India’s geography makes a compelling case for maritime expansion and ties. The shift that we are talking about in the present context is so apparent that maritime discussions lead the discourse in geopolitics. The entire construct of foreign policies is now based on the strength of maritime economic power.
So, what are the expectations from this year’s Union Budget?
“The navy’s budget must reach 20 percent of the overall defence budget,” says former Navy Chief, Admiral Arun Prakash. He outlines India’s maritime potential.
The government recently announced its plans to integrate shipbuilding activities with defence with cash subsidies, lower taxes and other incentives to bolster its shipbuilding industry.
According to government officials, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to announce a marine-focused budget, targeting an ambitious plan for shipbuilding in the upcoming budget.
This forms part of the strategic maritime goals under the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and Maritime Vision-2030. All such plans will revolve around the Indian navy.
Also, the plan is largely built around the Government’s Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs). Almost all the warships are built at these leading shipyards – Mazagon Dock, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Cochin Shipyard and Goa Shipyard, with only a single private shipyard by Larsen & Toubro.
However, despite the capabilities, the number of ships built remains 2-3 each year. This is far short of the desired number of ships that the Navy needs. For example, China takes 3-4 years to build a warship with a similar configuration and capability, while India takes between 7 and 9 years.
So far, the Indian Navy’s current fleet has a total of 137 vessels, with only one aircraft carrier in service while the big chunk of older submarines is being decommissioned.
However, what is the most pressing need is the missing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) capabilities for the navy. The Budget is expected to address the gaps, given that navies around the world are focusing on combat and non-combat UAVs. China has added killer drones and unmanned vessels capable of linking with manned warships for networked attacks to its arsenal.
Another key aspect is building marine infrastructure in the Indian Ocean region. The alarming situation is evident from the fact that China is developing various facilities, including a naval base, around the Indian Ocean Region which has been the primary focus area of responsibility of the Indian Navy.
The challenges can only be addressed with a sufficient budget for the navy. As summed by Admiral Prakash, “This results in massive skilling of youth and employment for thousands in shipyards & MSMEs. Therefore, enhancing our maritime power will result in a massive boost to the economy.”