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Indian Navy is on a major capability upgrade

In the backdrop of increasing responsibilities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and increased Chinese presence increasing the tempo of overseas deployments and exercises to an all-time high, Indian Navy has embarked on a major capability upgrade. Highlighting this, a Navy officer said that this year on an average 35 Navy ships were deployed every day.

The Navy has undertaken 113 port calls including operational turnarounds this year and has participated in 21 exercises including the Indra series with Russia which began on Sunday,” the officer said.

With Navy ensuring the presence of atleast one major ship at all critical choke points in the IOR under its Mission Based Deployments, the operational requirements have significantly gone up. On the other hand, India has significantly increased its military to military engagement with friendly nations as part of its defence diplomacy and the Navy is at the forefront.

“As on today, 32 ships and submarines are presently under construction in Indian shipyards. These include the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Vikrant, Project-15B destroyers, Project-17A stealth frigates, P-28 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvettes, Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) and Scorpene class submarines… In addition, Government approval has also been accorded for 56 Ships and six submarines,” Navy Chief Adm Sunil Lanba said last week.

The 56 ships are in various stages of procurement and include replacements for existing platforms as well as new additions. “Construction activity will be spread over a decade,” Adm Sunil Lanba stated.

These include next generation frigates and destroyers, four stealth frigates from Russia, four Landing Platform Decks (LPD), 16 shallow water craft, 12 mine sweepers, five Fleet Support Ships (FSS), four survey vessels, 2 Diving Support Vessels (DSV) among others.

The six submarines under Project-75I are being procured through the Strategic Partnership (SP) route for which the submarine specific guidelines are expected to be issued shortly taking the much delayed project forward.

Process is also on for procurement of 57 carrier based fighter aircraft, 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH), 24 Multi-Role Helicopters (MRH). There is a larger requirement of 123 MRHs which will fly from ship decks.

The Navy currently has 117 ships, 15 submarines and over 200 aircraft and has set an ambitious target of 200-ship force by 2027.

All this comes in the backdrop of China increasing its presence and establishing permanent facilities in the IOR. Adm Lanba stated that China deploys six to eight warships in the IOR at any given time and the eighth Chinese submarine since 2013 to enter the region returned to its base in October.

India has of late signed a series of logistics agreements — US, France, Singapore and more in the offing — which the navy expects will increase its reach and also offset the deficiencies in numbers in the near term. Navy has also signed white shipping agreements with 19 countries of which 12 have been operationalized for increased Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

Outlining an aircraft carrier based force structure for the Navy, Adm Lanba said, “In my opinion a three Carrier Battle Group (CBG) will suffice the Indian Navy’s role to provide maritime security in the IOR.”

While Navy is looking for more submarines, Adm Lanba said the high cost of a carrier is justified by the capability a CBG can bring to bear. “A submarine can’t do the same role as a CBG or a carrier can do. Submarine is an ideal platform for sea denial, while a CBG is the most potent platform for sea control,” he added.

However, the force enhancements are contingent on increased budgetary allocation which has not seen a major increase over the years. Also all three services are on a major modernisation drive putting further pressure on the limited resources.

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