Taking stock of naval acquisition plan
Amalgamation of six nuclear submarines into the beleaguered 30-years submarine force building and modernisation perspective plan and alongside developing the ancillary shore support facilities, infrastructure and the allinclusive base could truly be a gam
Past one year has witnessed a positive push forward by the government for the dormant schemes, especially for the subsurface fleet where the capability gaps are widening, is indeed re-assuring. While the lost time cannot be made-up, it is hoped that the momentum gathering now should bring Maritime Capability Perspective Plan back on track. While the brief résumé in the succeeding paragraphs is by and large based on the recent pronouncements and the approvals of Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). Procurement and acquisition cycles run its own course with imponderable timelines.
Indigenous Aircraft Carriers
In the recent past the Government has accorded sanction for Phase-II for 40,000-tonne IAC-I to be commissioned as INS Vikrant and is currently under construction at Cochin Shipyard Ltd. The project has suffered undue delays, time and cost overruns, is now slated to be inducted by 2018-19 only.
Considering the complexity of design development and construction, systems integration, etc. the gestation period for IAC-II, to be christened as INS Vishal, could well span over 10-12 years. The project is receiving attention at the highest level with a view to ensure that its construction begins by the time Vikrant is rolled out.
During recently concluded Naval Aviation Seminar 2015 on April 30 and May 1, 2015, there were intense deliberations on ‘Future Aircraft Carrier and Carrier Borne Operations’ with the sole objective of hastening the design development and construction of Vishal. Scott Forney, Senior Vice President, General Atomics, made a comprehensive presentation on emerging technologies for future aircraft carrier and unveiled the powerful and futuristic electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). After several phases of successful trials ashore, EMALS has been approved for induction on board US Navy’s under construction supercarrier USS Gerald Ford. Indian Navy, with the tacit support of the Government, are closely monitoring the development and have shown keen interest for induction of EMALS on IAC II, INS Vishal.
After several years of ups and downs, finally the MRH programme was reduced to a tender for just 16 aircraft which was opened on December 4, 2014, along with an option clause for another eight as immediate replacement for already phased out Seaking 42 and 42A during 1990-91. The final cost negotiations are still in the works with no defined timelines. Even if the contract for 16 S-70B MRH is signed now the deliveries will only materialise from 2018 onwards.
To keep the advanced light helicopter (ALH) of HAL afloat, Indian Navy is also buying 16 ALH despite the unresolved technical issues of wing-folding mechanism and take-off weight.
Naval Multi-role Helicopters
The original plan for acquiring 123 NMRH from the leading global vendors has been recently re-categorised as ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’. This is aimed at promoting Indian industry in the aviation sector to tie up with global majors for the technology transfer and joint venture arrangements for the indigenous production of the aircraft. The government has ordered the capacity and capability verification of Indian industry to be cleared for participation in the tendering process. It is learnt that tenders will be put out shortly.
Naval Utility Helicopters
A requirement to procure over 100 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) from the leading global manufacturers was identified in the past. This programme was however scrapped last year and the ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ categorisation was awarded to it.
Consequent to revised categorisation, several top Indian companies including Tata, Mahindra and Anil Ambani-led Reliance Group have displayed keen interest to participate in the nearly $1.5 billion NUH programme. A large number of domestic firms have responded to the request for information issued by the government in October 2014. Most of the leading Indian industries, such as Punj Llyod, Bharat Forge, Mahindra Aerospace, Reliance Defence and Aerospace, Tata Advanced Systems and HAL have responded.
European major Airbus, AgustaWestland, Bell Helicopters and Sikorsky, as also Russian Kamov 226 helicopters are reportedly in negotiations with Indian industry to finalise their participation in ‘Make in India’ initiatives for both NMRH and NUH.
REAR ADMIRAL S. RAMSAY (RETD)