By Commodore Anil Jai Singh
As the country prepares to celebrate the Navy Day on 04 December, the Indian Navy can look back with great pride on its transition from a post independence brown water navy comprising a few sloops and coastal craft into a world class blue water navy with full spectrum combat capability.
The Indian Navy presently has about 140 ships and submarines in commission and 40 or so at various stages of construction with a stated ambition of becoming a 200-ship navy by 2027. This is ambitious but essential if India is to be a credible Indo-Pacific power. The emerging maritime security challenges in the Indo-Pacific, China’s aggressive pursuit of its global ambitions and its increasing presence in the Indian ocean , India’s own recent foreign policy initiatives, the coastal security challenges and providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief has placed a great responsibility on the Indian Navy to provide a credible capability commensurate with India’s pre-eminent status in the Indian Ocean and its self-mandated role as the ‘net security provider in the region’. This also includes the support of a rules- based international order to protect the safe and free movement of maritime traffic in and through this region which is one of the busiest waterways in the world.
In the last few years the Indian Navy has been maintaining an unprecedented operational tempo in fulfilment of its increasing roles, missions and responsibilities. Last year the Chief of the Naval Staff had highlighted the Navy’s multi-mission deployment which requires 15 warships to be constantly deployed in various parts of the Indo-Pacific in keeping with India’s status as a responsible maritime power in the region. In addition, the Navy has to constantly exercise its combat capability which is its primary role and is infact the raison d’etre of any navy. There has also been a marked increase in bilateral and multilateral exercises with friendly foreign navies and overseas deployments in furtherance of India’s foreign policy objectives. Coastal security is a major challenge which requires dedicated resources. Instances of providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief have increased with the increasing occurrence of disasters, both natural and man-made in the region. Towards meeting all these commitments, the Indian Navy has managed its resources remarkably well but sustaining this over a long term without adequate enhancement in capacity will be a challenge and could ultimately affect the Navy’s combat readiness.
The Indian Navy is structured as an aircraft carrier-centric multi-dimensional blue water force and three aircraft carriers has been an aspiration since independence though the Navy has never had more than two. Presently the Indian Navy has only one (INS Vikramaditya). The second aircraft carrier, Vikrant, named after its illustrious predecessor, is being constructed indigenously and should join service by 2021. Ambitious plans for a third aircraft carrier are under discussion but construction is still some years away. The Navy’s surface warfare capability, which is integral to Carrier Battle Group(CBG) operations has been greatly bolstered with the induction of the Delhi and Kolkata class destroyers , the Shivalik class stealth frigates and the Kamorta class ASW corvettes. The construction of four Project 15B destroyers and seven project 17A stealth frigates is ongoing. Recent media reports indicate that the navy is acquiring two Type 1135.6 stealth frigates from Russia and another two may be built in India.
There are impressive plans for enhancing India’s sub surface capability. Presently the Navy has 14 conventional submarines (SSK), one nuclear attack submarine(SSN) on lease from Russia and one indigenously constructed ballistic missile armed nuclear powered submarine (SSBN) , INS Arihant which was in the news recently for having successfully completed her first deterrent patrol. Six of the older SSKs are being modernised and will pack a formidable punch. The first of the new project 75 submarines, built indigenously was commissioned in December 2017 with the remaining five to follow at yearly intervals. Future plans include a mix of conventional and nuclear attack submarines for conventional warfighting and at least three more SSBNs for strategic nuclear deterrence.
Naval aviation forms an integral part of a balanced force structure and includes long range maritime surveillance, airborne early warning, strikes on enemy ships and shore targets from fighter jets launched from aircraft carriers, anti-submarine and anti- surface warfare from helicopters on board ships besides many other roles. The Boeing P8I Long range maritime patrol (LRMP) aircraft has enabled the Indian Navy to greatly enhance its maritime domain awareness capability, an essential requirement in the current maritime security scenario. Similarly, the Mig 29K fighter aircraft operating from the INS Vikramaditya has provided a quantum leap in strike capability vis-a-vis the aircraft on the older aircraft carriers which were smaller and less versatile. It is however, the helicopter fleet of the navy which needs urgent attention. Ageing aircraft need to be replaced and new ones added. Inordinate delays in finalising the plans have further exacerbated the situation.
The Navy has been extremely quick off the mark in adapting itself to the changing paradigm of warfare with the advent of special ops, autonomous technologies, cyber threats and space-based surveillance. Comprehensive unmanned capability in the air, on the surface and below the surface are part of the navy’s future plans; network centric warfare is being exercised regularly, and the navy is the only service to have a dedicated satellite, Rukmini, providing it valuable data.
The Indian Navy has not only been nimble and agile in adapting to change but has also been at the forefront in encouraging indigenisation. It will be an integral part of India’s rise to great power status. It is for the political and bureaucratic establishment to provide it the support to achieve this sooner rather than later.
The author is a veteran submariner and Vice President of the Indian Maritime Foundation