Thursday, February 9, 2023

Indian Navy: ‘Combat Ready, Credible, Cohesive & Future Proof Force’

By Kamal Shah

India’s 25th Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral R Hari Kumar, exclusively spoke to Indian Aerospace & Defence’s Editorial Director Kamal Shah on the Indian Navy’s indigenisation efforts and innovation, the status of major procurements and aims for its second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2)

Q. Our readers would be intrigued to know about indigenous specifications that the Indian Navy expects in the MQ-9B drones?

Ans: The tri-services case for the procurement of MQ9B Sea Guardian High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) is being progressed. Through assertive negotiations, an instant acquisition proposal has been leveraged for assembly of at least 60% of the quantity of aircraft proposed for procurement in India, setting up of a Performance Based Depot Level Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO), Sea Guardian Global Sustainment Support (SGSS) and collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the transfer of certain niche technology required for the indigenous design and development (D&D) of HALE RPAS in India. These enabling agreements, along with the procurement case, would make India ‘a Drone Hub’ as the honourable Prime Minister envisioned. The MQ-9B proposal envisages integration of indigenous Indian Identification of Friend and Foe (IFF), Link 2 data link and NAViC equipment. In addition, it is planned to procure the engines, landing gear, radar processors and a few other pieces of equipment from indigenous sources.

Q. How does the Technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC) see Varuna shaping the Indian Navy’s prowess? 

Ans: Varuna is a fully autonomous Personal Air Vehicle, which will initially be used to transfer stores between ships and then be used for passenger transfer. It has the ability to take off and land on a moving platform and has redundancy for failures of rotors and impact. The flexibility to operate from anywhere, including ship decks automatically, with lower noise levels and independence from runways/helo-decks, allows Varuna to aid naval operations, including logistics, relocation and emergency medical response applications. Fuel cells/battery-powered flight has the potential to be a game changer for the Indian Navy; this experimental unmanned system would be ready for prototype testing by 15 August 2023.

Q. How do you see Manned-Unmanned teaming (MUM-T) featuring as a concept in future naval operations?

Ans: Unmanned vehicles have become attractive and potent military assets for any significant power to ignore. Notwithstanding, no machine can replicate the human gift of discovery and situational awareness. Today’s technology is insufficient to allow unmanned vehicles to make independent complex judgements in an unknown environment. Balancing manned and unmanned platforms is therefore vital for operational, strategic, and economic reasons and to enhance the combat potential.

The future is unmanned, we are embracing this by engaging with many private companies and startups to create potential low-cost unmanned systems to autonomously interoperate with other manned/unmanned systems in uncontrolled unsupervised environments effectively and safely.

Q. Coming to submarines, could you give our readers an update on the status of the P-75(I) program?

Ans: The Request For Proposal (RFP) for the Project-75(I) has been issued to the two Indian Applicant Companies viz M/s Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) and M/s Larson and Toubro (L&T) on 20 July 2021. Project 75(I) envisages the construction of six modern conventional submarines at an Indian shipyard with support from a suitable foreign technology partner. The case is being progressed in accordance with the guidelines of the Strategic Partnership Model of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). The bidders had raised certain concerns on some clauses of the RFP, and the same has been resolved by minor changes to the RFP. Post receipt of the response to the RFP, the process of technical evaluation and Commercial Negotiations will follow.

Q. Where do you see India in terms of naval space-based assets as compared to its geopolitical rivals?

Ans: As compared to geopolitical rivals, the Indian Navy has contemporary space assets and aims to indigenise space-based capabilities by encouraging the Indian space ecosystem through Atmanirbharta. The well-laid-out capability development plan of the Indian Navy encompasses a holistic approach to modernising the Navy in a smooth manner. The modernisation process has provisions to identify the existing capability gaps as well as methods to fill these gaps.

Q. The Indian Navy has made history with INS Vikrant; could you tell our readers what that experience means for the nation? Furthermore, do you see the need for an IAC-2? If so, how is the potential project being pursued by the service? 

Ans: India’s aspiration as a regional power to safeguard its interests and those of friendly countries can be effected through a near-continuous presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In accordance with the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) 2022-37, it is envisaged that the Indian Navy would need to undertake concurrent sea control operations by three Carrier Task Forces (CTF) in geographically separate locations. Therefore, a three-carrier force would be essential to provide sea control in the region.

INS Vikrant stands testimony to our nation’s efforts towards the complete indigenisation of our armed forces. With this, India has become part of the elite group of nations possessing the niche capability to indigenously design and build an aircraft carrier. The technical expertise gained in the indigenous construction of INS Vikrant is precious and should be capitalised upon to accrue savings in terms of cost and time. Therefore, the induction of a third carrier through indigenous construction is being actively explored.

 Q. What operational capabilities would the potential IAC-2 give the Indian Navy in terms of developing a Carrier Battle Group? 

The Carrier Battle Group (CBG), of which the aircraft carrier is the central entity, is a means of projecting maritime power at sea and from the sea. It is a self-contained and composite force capable of undertaking an entire range of tasks which no other platform/shore-based aircraft can undertake. The CBG is capable of providing ‘persistent air power in a region at extremely short notice and has the inherent flexibility and mobility to shift to a new theatre of operations in 48 to 72 hours. 

Q. What are some of the requirements, project scale and timelines the Indian Navy is looking at for the IAC-2? Could you elaborate on how the experience amassed from INS Vikrant could translate into the carrier project? 

Ans: Considering the indigenous expertise available with respect to the design and construction of IAC-1, a repeat order of IAC-1 with suitable modifications to incorporate lessons learnt from IAC-1 and future capabilities envisaged is also being explored. Broad contours of the repeat orders have been defined. Additionally, the Navy also envisages an electric-propelled, 65,000 tonnes carrier capable of a maximum speed of 30 knots and employing Catapult Assisted Take-off but Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR). The Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the projects is yet to be processed.

The construction of a carrier involves a long gestation period, and the expenditure on this is spread over 15 years. In addition, the carrier would be in service for 50-60 years. We have to take the long view in terms of what should be our national capability and global aspirations 60 years from now and not be bogged down by today’s constraints. Apart from the warfighting concepts, an aircraft carrier can provide impetus to Make in India and Skill in India

Q. Apart from the military advantages, how do you see such projects helping in other aspects of nation-building?

Ans: The shipbuilding industry and warship acquisition have a direct impact on the economic development of a nation. This project will create extensive job opportunities and encourage indigenous shipbuilding and business to Micro, Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs.) The ‘Plough Back Effect’ of projects of this magnitude on the economy are highly significant.

Q. Looking at the year gone by, what has been the Indian Navy’s achievements and shortfalls?

Ans:  The Indian Navy is a versatile and potent instrument of national power which can shape the maritime environment and safeguard national interests. In doing this, the Indian Navy has a wide canvas of responsibilities. During the last year, the Indian Navy stood ready to promote, preserve and protect our maritime interests across the vast oceans. Our endeavours in this regard were focussed on remaining a Combat Ready, Credible, Cohesive and Future Proof Force.

With regards to combat readiness, it hardly merits reiteration that Vikrant has been a substantial addition to our warfighting capability. The commissioning of two Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) squadrons and the induction of the MH 60-R helicopters have been notable capability enhancers. Further, with the launch of Surat, Udaygiri, Dunagiri, Nistar, Nipun, and Nirdeshak; along with trial progress of Mormugao, Vagir, and Vagsheer; – our surface and sub-surface force levels are poised for a significant fillip. Concomitant efforts towards developing commensurate infrastructure, materiel and logistics planning, as well as suitable human resource development, are aligned to maintain and sustain a combat-ready force.

In terms of credibility, our actions across our areas of interest have served as a valuable signal. These include:- 

  • The maiden concurrent deployment of our ships across six continents on 15th August this year served as valuable signalling to underscore our credibility – at home, in the region, and across the world.
  • Our anti-narcotics operations – which have resulted in the interception of drugs worth nearly 8000 crore Rupees – underscored not only the Navy’s organic capability but have also been clear examples of synergy, cooperation, and proactive actions by all stakeholders.  
  • Our units have continued to remain mission deployed, across our areas of interest, ready to respond to requests from friendly states. For instance, the transhipment of 27,760 kg of essential medical aid and 15,750 litres of Kerosene to Sri Lanka, as part of Mission SAGAR X, lent credence to our status of being the ‘First Responder’. 

Towards cohesiveness, our approach to being a cohesive force is two-pronged. Internally – we aim to remain a well-knit and motivated team through a clear-eyed focus on happy personnel –underscored by a single-minded outlook of keeping our ships, submarines, and aircraft foremost in all endeavours. Externally – our efforts are aimed at establishing and enhancing trust with stakeholders across the domestic and international canvas. Our engagements with Friendly Foreign Countries (FFC) continue to shape a favourable maritime environment for us. Successful conduct or participation in 34 exercises – encompassing bi-lateral and multi-lateral exercises, Coordinated Patrols (CORPATS), etc. continue to strengthen our cohesion with other maritime forces in the region as we seek to address shared maritime security challenges of today and of the future. We also deployed our first unit to the Combined Maritime Force (CMF) in September this year.

In terms of future-proofing, I see significant progress on multiple fronts. As we look to the future – from a technology perspective – the unveiling of 75 challenges at the Swavlamban seminar in July this year was a step in the right direction and has witnessed an overwhelming response from Industry. We need to retain a sustained focus on bringing futuristic ideas and capabilities to fruition in practical terms – in realistic timeframes – and get the niche products that we seek. On the human resources (HR) front, the Agnipath scheme has been a truly transformative initiative commensurate to the changing times, and we look forward to inducting young men and women Agniveers.

Having said that, the Navy faced supply chain challenges due to the ongoing conflict in Europe, necessitating the need to further accelerate AatmaNirbharta. In the words of our honourable External Affairs Minister, “The Way Forward for India to deal with the emerging ‘new world order’ is to reduce the country’s dependency on the external world and fulfil ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat”. So, while we continue to continuously assess the geopolitical situation, we also concurrently work on alternatives – in this case, as I said – AatmaNirbharta.

Suffice it to say, overall, we can be satisfied for having retained focus on remaining a combat-ready, credible, cohesive, and future-proof force. At the same time, I must also reiterate that continuing on this trajectory is not just desirable – but extremely vital – to stay ahead of the curve in protecting our national maritime interests in the complex security scenario that we face.

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