India approves $50 billion naval build-up
[By Vishal Thapar]
India will be spending at least an additional $50 billion for its naval build-up from 2012 to 2017. Outgoing Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma disclosed that the government has granted acceptance of necessity (AON) for naval acquisitions worth ` 2,73,000 crore (approximately $50 billion).
This makes India’s naval modernisation programme one of the world’s largest naval build-ups. The $50 billion approvals include the acquisition of 49 new warships, in addition to the 46 which are already on order, as part of the Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2012-17.
The tempo for the build-up has been set by the conclusion of 191 naval contracts worth ` 92,069 crore over the last three years, which have also seen the induction of 15 new ships, including topof-the-line warships like the follow-on to the Talwar class and the indigenously-built Shivalik class destroyers.
“Over the next five years, we expect to induct ships and submarines at an average rate of five platforms per year,” Admiral Verma detailed at his farewell press conference in New Delhi, calling upon public and private shipyards in India to scale up production and meet global standards of delivery. Forty-three of the 46 ships and submarines at present under construction for the Indian Navy are being built at Indian shipyards. Admiral Verma wants delivery of ships in the Delhi class category speeded up to three years.
The 49 new ships and submarines approved for the Navy include seven more follow-on ships of the Shivalik class under Project 17-A. These are to be built at both Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), Mumbai, and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE), Kolkata. Contracts are likely by the end of the current fiscal. The construction of six more submarines under Project 75 (I) is expected to be green-flagged very soon.
Two mine hunters are to be built in South Korea, and subsequently six more at the Goa Shipyard under transfer of technology. Request for proposals (RFPs) for four LPDs and 16 shallow water anti-submarine warfare ships, two diving support vessels and one survey training ships will be issued in the coming months. Also, contracts for four water-jet FACs to be built at GRSE, Kolkata, and one more training ship to be built at a private shipyard are likely to be concluded during the current fiscal. Options for a deep submergence rescue vessel (DSRV) to ensure the safety of submarine operations are under technical evaluation.
In addition to the eight P-8I long-range maritime patrol (LRMR) aircraft due to be inducted starting 2013, eight medium-range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft are also planned for induction. The Indian Navy is also in the market for more unmanned aerial vehicles to further augment its surveillance and reconnaissance capability at sea.
On the rotary wing front, besides the upgrade of the Sea King 42B and Kamov-28 fleets, and new multi-role helicopters (MRH) for fleet ships, the naval utility helicopter is also planned for induction by 2016 and the RFP is imminent.
To drive home the point that India’s naval build-up is firmly on track, Admiral Verma pointed out that Navy has fully spent its capital budget over the past three years. The Navy is the only service whose expenditure ratio is loaded in favour of modernisation. “Today, our capital to revenue ratio stands at a very healthy ratio of 68:32,” the Navy Chief said.
There’s also a parallel effort to upgrade and develop infrastructure to support the build-up. Phase I of Project Seabird at Karwar was completed last year and the Navy is in the final stages of getting CCS approval for Phase IIA.
India’s nuke subheads for sea trials
The Navy is poised to complete the triad of India’s nuclear weapons, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma declared. The underwater arm of India’s nuclear deterrence will be put to trial at sea by the end of the year, he promised.
This is an indication that the nuclear reactor on India’s first SSBN, INS Arihant, will turn critical in the next few months. The nuclear-armed submarine was launched in July 2009. It’s now set to fill a critical gap in India’s deterrence posture. The Arihant will be armed with the K-series of SLBMs, which have been successfully tested from underwater pontoons.
“Given our unequivocal ‘no-first-use’ commitment a retaliatory strike capability that is credible and invulnerable is an imperative. The Indian Navy is poised to complete the triad, and our maritime and nuclear doctrines will then be aligned to ensure that our nuclear insurance comes from the sea,” the Navy Chief explained. He left nobody in doubt that the Indian Navy will be taking the lead in the deterrence game.
While a tri-services Strategic Forces Command is the custodian of all of India’s nuclear weapons, the Agni and Prithvi ballistic missiles are handled by Army rocket groups, and airborne strategic bombs are with Indian Air Force (IAF) units. Although the Navy has inducted the Dhanush version of the Prithvi nuclear-capable missile on a few surface warships, its real baptism as a nuclear-armed force will come only with the induction of the Arihant.
Steadily steaming ahead
Although the Navy accounts for just a little over 15 per cent of India’s defence budget, it’s modernisation programme appears the most focused and productive among the three services.
As many as 15 new ships have been commissioned into the Navy over the last three years. These include the three Shivalik class ‘stealth’ frigates Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri, the first of the Talwar class follow-on Russian-built stealth frigates – Teg, two fleet tankers Deepak and Shakti, the sail training ship Sudarshini and eight water-jet fast attack crafts.
The cherry on the cake was the commissioning of the nuclear attack submarine INS Chakra on January 23 this year, making India
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