Old Sea Dog Bids Adieu
Admiral Nirmal Verma reflected upon the often repeated query about the dichotomy of the fact that the Indian Navy which professed blue-water aspirations was now engrossed in brown-water operations. He saw no such dichotomy in the maritime strategy as Indi
At the twilight of his illustrious naval career of over four decades, Admiral Nirmal Verma addressed his farewell press conference on August 7. Reneging his well-known preference to reticence, Admiral Verma recalled the Indian Navy’s significant accomplishments during his innings of three years as the Chief of the Naval Staff. His address was not restricted to just the past accomplishments; it also doled out comprehensively the blueprint of Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2012-27. At his nostalgic best, he recalled his first message to the Navy in which he had emphasised the need to focus on both ‘consolidation’ and ‘sustained growth’; and now at the end of his tenure he said he felt sufficiently satisfied of the progress that the Navy had collectively accomplished. He placed on record that what had been accomplished on his watch was possible because of the ‘course that had been steered’ by his predecessors, as also the enormous efforts of the veteran community. In his tribute he added, “Needless to say, none of it would have been possible without the efforts, dedication and commitment of the men and women of the Indian Navy—who are the finest in the world.”
Recording the successes in the campaign against piracy which has besotted the Indian Ocean region (IOR), he stated that over 2,100 merchantmen were escorted by Indian Navy ships and 40 piracy attempts were averted. Along with the sustained efforts of various navies and the shipping community, the success rate of piracy had dropped from 38 per cent in 2008 to approx 11 per cent till 2011 and even further in 2012. In 2009-10, the scourge of piracy had spread to the East Arabian Sea at times beyond 1,000 nautical miles from the Horn of Africa and closer to Indian waters. He said, “I am happy to state that over the past year, there has not been a single incident of piracy within 300 nautical miles of our island territories on the West coast. Consequently, international shipping is now passing closer to the Indian coast due to the protection provided by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard.”
He informed that the three major documents—the Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2012-27, the Twelfth Five Year Plan document and the Twelfth Five Year Infrastructure Plan document were published over the past three years. During the Eleventh Five Year Plan period, which concluded on March 31, 2012, close to 200 acceptances of necessity (AON) with a total value of ` 2,73,070 crore (about $49.6 billion) were obtained. Of these, 161 contracts with a total value of ` 92,069 crore ($16.7 billion) were concluded. A record number of 15 ships were commissioned, which included the three Shivalik class stealth frigates: Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri; two fleet tankers: Deepak and Shakti; one follow-on 1135.6 class stealth frigate INS Teg; the sail training ship Sudarshini; and eight water-jet fast attack crafts (FAC). Commissioning of the nuclear attack submarine INS Chakra on January 23, 2012, was a momentous occasion, as India is now part of a select group of six nations that operate SSNs. Arihant is steadily progressing towards its operationalisation with its sea trials expected to commence in the coming months.
He highlighted the indigenous warship building programme under which 43 warships were currently under construction in Indian shipyards and include the indigenous aircraft carrier, destroyers, corvettes and submarines. Three ships of Project 15A, which are follow-on of the existing Delhi class destroyers, with improved stealth features and weapon and sensor fit were scheduled for induction commencing early 2013. A contract had been signed with the Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) for four more P15B destroyers, which will follow the P15A ships. Four anti-submarine warfare corvettes (ASW) being built at the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE), Kolkata, are the first stealth corvettes designed and built indigenously as specialised ASW surface combatants. The first ship was scheduled to be inducted early next year and the others to follow in an interval of a year. To augment offshore patrolling capability, four offshore patrol vessels are under construction at the Goa Shipyard Limited. The ships are scheduled for induction from end 2012 onwards. Five other offshore patrol vessels will be built at a pri- vate shipyard. These ships, along with two cadet training ships under construction at another private shipyard, are the first warship orders ever given to private shipyards. Eight new upgraded landing craft are also under construction at GRSE, Kolkata, and will augment the force levels in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. These ships will replace the old landing craft utility, which are in the process of being phased out.
To augment the hydrography capability and force levels of survey ships, six new catamaran hull survey vessels were being built by Alcock Ashdown Gujarat Ltd, at Bhavnagar. The first ship was scheduled to be commissioned shortly. The construction of Scorpene submarines under Project 75 was under way and MDL and the Department of Defence Production maintain that the first submarine was likely to be commissioned in 2015 and the sixth submarine by 2018.
Admiral Verma also informed that in addition to the 46 ships currently under construction, AON for 49 more ships and submarines had been obtained. These include seven more follow-on ships of the Shivalik class under Project 17A, which are to be built both at MDL, Mumbai and GRSE, Kolkata, contract for which was expected to be concluded during the current financial year. Contracts for four water-jet FACs, to be built at GRSE, Kolkata; one more training ship, to be built at a private shipyard; and two mine hunters to be built in South Korea, were likely to be concluded during the current financial year. Six more mine hunters will be subsequently built at Goa Shipyard under transfer of technology (ToT). Options for the deep submergence and rescue vessel were currently being technically evaluated. In addition, approval for construction of six submarines under Project-75(I) was at the final stages of approval. Requests for proposals (RFPs) for four landing platform docks (LPDs), 16 shallow water ASW ships, one survey training vessel and two diving support vessels were also expected to be issued in the coming months.
Of the 46 ships and submarines currently on order, 43 are under construction at the Indian shipyards. The indigenous construction programme has been so structured to ensure that over the next five years, five platforms of ships and submarines per year are inducted provided the shipyards
adhere to contracted deliver timelines. In this context, he emphasised upon the need for the public and private sector shipyards to scale up their capabilities to deliver state-of-the-art warships that match global standards. He recommended incremental adoption of the provisions of ‘Buy and Make Indian’ in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) to synergise capabilities and implement leap fogging technologies.
He drew reference to the three ships under construction in Russia, which include two more ships of the follow-on Talwar class, with one scheduled for induction later this year and the other next year. The third ship, Vikramaditya, is currently undergoing sea trials. Recently, aviation trials involving the operations of the MiG-29K from the deck of that ship were carried out.
The aviation assets were being modernised and augmented in consonance with the long-term vision of the Navy. In order to maintain effective vigil and surveillance in the Navy’s area of interest, eight of the world’s most advanced, state-of-the-art P-8I Neptune long-range maritime patrol aircraft were due to be inducted commencing early 2013. In addition, eight medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft were also planned for induction. Procurement of additional UAV was being progressed to further augment surveillance and reconnaissance capability at sea. The acquisition of the carrier-borne MiG-29K fighters will significantly enhance the Indian Navy’s strike capability. The first batch has already been inducted and delivery of aircraft from the followon contract will commence later this year. The rotary wing assets of the Navy were also being upgraded to induct state-of-theart weapons, sensors and avionics. These include upgradation of the Kamov 28 and Seaking 42B. The new inductions amongst the helicopters include the multi-role helicopters (MRH) for fleet ships. In addition, the naval utility helicopter was also planned for induction by 2016 and the RFP should get issued any time now, he said.
Commenting upon the strategic location and importance of the nation’s island territories, Admiral Nirmal Verma informed that security of islands has been bolstered by the commissioning of the naval establishment INS Dweeprakshak at Kavaratti, in the Lakshwadeep and Minicoy islands. Likewise, in the last week of July, Naval Air Station INS Baaz was commissioned at Campbell Bay on Great Nicobar Island. Admiral Nirmal Verma once again highlighted the significance of the strategic geography and importance of INS Baaz which is situated on this southernmost island of the Nicobar group, overlooking the Strait of Malacca and dominating the six degree channel.
Emphasising on the inevitable requirement of cooperative engagement and confidence building mechanism in the maritime domain, Admiral Nirmal Verma recognised Indian Navy’s lead initiative in organising and conducting the inaugural Indian Ocean Naval Symposium ( IONS) in 2008 and informed that this year the Indian Navy has set up the permanent website of IONS, which will function as a virtual Secretariat and allow a variety of other functions to be discharged in a cost-effective manner. IONS has been a very progressive step in increasing maritime cooperation amongst navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean region, thereby crystallising the rhetoric of ‘helping the IOR help itself’.
Admiral Nirmal Verma highlighted numerous bilateral initiatives to facilitate capability building and capacity enhancement of India’s smaller neighbours, particularly island nations in the IOR. These include installation of radars and automatic identification systems, providing assets for exclusive economic zone (EEZ) surveillance and hydrographic assistance. The Navy’s foreign cooperation initiatives include engaging with other extra-regional navies as well as gaining operational skills and doctrinal expertise. The growing scope and complexity of ‘combined exercises’ with the United States Navy, the French, the Royal Navy, the Russian Navy, the Singaporeans and South African and Brazilian Navies all contribute towards the Navy’s cooperative engagement initiatives.
Admiral Nirmal Verma also reflected upon his tenure as the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and reiterated his firm support to jointness and closer integration between the three services for greater efficiency and economy in the longterm. He expressed satisfaction over steady albeit slow progress on the path towards greater integration. He felt that this needed to be hastened, especially to ensure more effective control of the country’s strategic forces and more efficient conduct of defence procurement, training and logistics.
While preparing to swallow the anchor, the ‘Old Sea Dog’ did make a veiled yet subdued attempt at new tricks, unknown to him all through his three-year term. He, however, was cautious in not doling out any sensational sound bite. It was to his credit that he masterfully painted a wholesome and comprehensive canvas of Indian Navy’s steady voyage towards consolidation and sustained growth. Admiral Nirmal Verma reflected upon the often repeated query about the dichotomy of the fact that the Indian Navy which professed bluewater aspirations was now engrossed in brownwater operations. He, however, saw no such dichotomy in the maritime strategy as Indian Navy discharges its responsibilities as the lead agency for coastal security. He further clarified that multipronged approach that focuses on institutionalising and enhancing the efficacy of multi-agency coordination, capability augmentation of various stakeholders as well as setting up of adequate surveillance infrastructure had been adopted and that he was optimistic that the momentum that has been built will sustain to ensure fructification of the projects and initiatives envisaged.