Thursday, June 13, 2024

Charting The Navy’s Course Towards Tomorrow

By Kamal Shah

The Indian Navy is engaged in specific priorities. These cover protecting, promoting, pursuing and preserving the national interests and ensuring that capability gaps are filled. Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar talks of the nation’s nautical prowess and the respect her fleet commands on the high seas. A strong and self-reliant nation creates a strong and self-reliant Navy fine tuning operative options to ensure the safety and security of waters. As India establishes her maritime credentials globally the Navy’s role becomes increasingly critical.

Q: The scale and power of India’s neighbour’s aircraft carriers are far greater than that of INS Vikrant and Vikramaditya, despite the significant domestic infusion and investment. How do you believe we can tilt the balance in our favour through the Make in India initiative?

A: Each nation has its own goals and vision, and our neighbours are no different.  We keep a close eye on all developments in the region and think it prudent to continuously wait and watch and observe the development and evolution of operational models of various nations in the region.

Having said that, Bharatiya Nausena is the largest resident maritime power in the Indian Ocean Region. Bharat’s military preparedness, capability accretion and deployments are founded in protecting, promoting, pursuing and preserving our national interests, and not specifically against any one nation. In our context, while Bharatiya Nausena may look at foreign sources to bridge immediate capability gaps, the only way forward for a ‘stronger Navy’ is through a ‘stronger Bharat,’ which can only be achieved through Aatmanirbharta.

We are constantly fine-tuning our concept of operations and acquisition plans to effectively counter the evolving threats. With the induction of INS Vikrant, Bharat has entered an elite group of select few nations capable of constructing an aircraft carrier indigenously. We have achieved critical milestones by undertaking successful operations of LCA (Navy) and Mig 29K onboard Vikrant in 2023. The lessons learnt from the construction and operations of Vikrant will be suitably incorporated in our follow-on aircraft carrier.

As regards carrier-borne air-wing, we are progressing case for Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter (TEDBF), which is a 4++ generation Short Take-Off but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) Fighter, being indigenously developed by ADA, as a replacement for our MIG-29K fleet. These aircraft would be one of the most advanced deck-based fighters in the world.

From a macro perspective, Bharat’s vision of being a developed nation by 2047 would invariably imply expansive trade and commerce activity, most of which will be undertaken through seas. To safeguard our ever-expanding national interests across the world, Bhartiya Nausena has made an unequivocal commitment to become a fully Aatmanirbhar Force by 2047. In the words of our Hon’ble External Affairs Minister, “The way forward for India to deal with the emerging ‘new world order’ is to reduce the country’s dependency on external world, and fulfil ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat”.[1] So, while we continuously assess situations, we also concurrently work on alternatives – in this case, as I said – Aatmanirbharta

Q: Considering the challenging equilibrium, the Navy must maintain a delicate but vital balance between financial allotments and strengthening its capabilities. In that light what are your acquisition priorities be it submarines, frigates, destroyers, carriers or killer boats.

A: The maritime domain necessitates a strong and robust Navy as a credible maritime power to meet future challenges. The role and responsibility of Bhartiya Nausena are increasing rapidly. This includes the requirement to safeguard our expanding economic interests, as also the responsibilities associated with being a mature and responsible maritime power. The Navy’s ability to meet these roles and requirements warrants capability accretion in all three dimensions – air, surface, and sub-surface. Each platform – be it an aircraft carrier, destroyer, frigate, missile boat or submarine – has distinct capabilities to undertake myriad tasks. Thus, our focus remains on induction of platforms to achieve a balanced ‘force mix’ for undertaking a myriad of tasks in our areas of interest. With regards to budget, the long gestation time of naval platforms ensures fiscal expenditure does not impinge on a particular year but is spread across a predetermined time frame.

We aim to remain strong over, under and above the seas.

Q: Do drones have an increasing role over water? Has the Predator induction given the Navy more muscle? By the same token would you harness AI and turn it into an effective accessory to coastal defence?

A: Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA), Autonomous Surface Vessels and Autonomous Sub-Surface Vessels, or in simpler words – Drones, have a significant impact on war fighting, owing to their unique characteristics and capabilities. As per media reports, the prominent use of drones during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in effective naval operations.

Bhartiya Nausena too has inducted various types of autonomous vehicles to complement its operational platforms, both during war and peace. RPAs and Autonomous Vessels at sea, are especially significant as they can provide us with the capability to undertake persistent surveillance over the vast stretch of oceans, without any life-risk or human-limitations. Procurement of MQ 9B HALE RPA from the US is under process. MQ-9B HALE RPAs – once inducted into service – would be a force multiplier and further foster Bhartiya Nausena’s ability to undertake reconnaissance at extended ranges.

As far as AI is concerned, Bhartiya Nausena has been harnessing niche technologies for analysis of large volumes of data accumulated by operational platforms. It has enabled quicker analyses, as well as dissemination of credible real-time intelligence to units at sea. We recognise that Big Data Analysis coupled with AI holds the potential to simplify the complex challenge of identification in the maritime domain, enabling Bhartiya Nausena to further augment its coastal defence mechanisms.

Q:  In terms of trade and defence, there has been constant coordination and cooperation with African countries. How does the Indian Navy plan to proceed further with this collaboration and the Gulf and Middle East?

A:  Bharat’s vision for the oceans is encapsulated by SAGAR, which stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region. SAGAR has a cooperative as well as a collaborative connotation. Guided by this vision, Bhartiya Nausena has maintained long standing and strong bilateral relations with maritime neighbours in the IOR, including friends from Africa, Gulf and Middle East Region. As part of Bharat’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy, we have actively engaged with the regional navies, assisting towards their Capacity Building and Capability Enhancement, through Collaborative Efforts and Constructive Engagements. We have undertaken a wide range of initiatives spanning from training of personnel to provision of key assets/ platforms to Friendly Foreign Countries. About 1000 personnel from these Navies are trained each year in various training institutes of Bharatiya Nausena. This is complemented further by deputing Mobile Training Teams (MTT) for conduct of customised courses for larger number of trainees in the host country. More than 10 friendly Navies avail the option of MTTs on a regular basis. In addition, Bharat has also offered to facilitate information sharing through its Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region at Gurugram for greater transparency in the maritime domain amongst the IOR countries. Similarly, to complement the capacity building efforts of friendly countries, Bharatiya Nausena also undertakes joint EEZ surveillance and Coordinated Patrol missions. Bharatiya Nausena’s organic capacities and capabilities are thus made available to these nations to augment their maritime security efforts. These are in line with Bharat’s worldview of keeping the seas free, open and inclusive and collectively enhancing the regional security quotient. Bharat’s initiatives have aided in the Navy being seen as the ‘Preferred Security Partner and First Responder to maritime challenges in the IOR’. Since maritime threats are fast evolving, transcend national boundaries and are beyond the capacity of any one country to address alone, there is an increased realisation that no single entity can address these challenges effectively – no one can do it alone. Therefore, there is a need for coming together based on a shared vision. Accordingly, issue-based convergences provide the way ahead. The overarching outlook is towards finding regional solutions to regional problems.

When it comes to finding collaborative solutions, I firmly believe that like-minded Navies can show the way. There are no better custodians than Navies, to act as collective sentinels of a “shared, common heritage”, as Hon’ble Prime Minister called the oceans during the UNSC Open Debate on Maritime Security in 2021. If we are to assure security and safety in the global commons, like-minded Navies would need to pool expertise, experience and resources, and work together to manage and maintain the global commons that foster global prosperity.

Q:  You recently stated that the Navy will become Atmanirbhar, or self-reliant, by 2047. Would you like to sail us down this promised course discussing the milestones on the way… and the reefs to be avoided?

A: Bharatiya Nausena’s commitment to ‘Self Reliance in Defence Production’ is evident from the fact that all 33 ships and submarines commissioned into the Navy since 2014 have been built in Bharat. Further, 64 out of 66, which is nearly 95% of the ships and submarines, currently under construction, are being built at Indian shipyards. This year, 80% of our budget has been allocated for domestic expenditure and we aim to further improve this figure. While these achievements reflect our focussed efforts towards ‘self-reliance’, we aim to be a 100% Atmanirbhar Navy by 2047.

We already have plans set into motion to achieve this. The Navy has already made sufficient progression in ‘Float’ and ‘Move’ categories as far as self-sufficiency is concerned. My priority, therefore, is to indigenise the ‘Fight’ category – which includes weapons, sensors and force multipliers.

Given that much needs to be done in the ‘Fight’ component, towards achieving complete self-reliance, we have prioritised certain focus areas, and our focus is on ‘Made in Bharat, Made by Bharat and Made exclusively for Bharat’ security solutions. The Navy’s ‘Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation’ (NIIO), launched in August 2020, and the Technology Development Acceleration Cell (TDAC), have taken significant strides to foster.

Aatmanirbharta in the field of Defence. To synergise our Atmanirbharta initiatives, we are following an all-encompassing endeavour called SPRINT (Supporting Pole-Vaulting in R& D through iDEX, NIIO and TDAC) – a single window for exchanging ideas, innovating, and inducting cutting edge technologies. Currently, we are progressing more than 100 projects under the Innovation for Defence Excellence (iDEX) scheme, 25 projects under the Technology Development Fund (TDF) scheme, and 37 projects under the Make Scheme.

[1] ANI News. Way to deal with new world order is ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. Reply by EAM in response to a question in Lok Sabha on 05 Apr 22.

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