“WE CAN MATCH CHINA IN THE IN­DIAN OCEAN RE­GION”

India Today - - DEFENCE | INTERVIEW -

CHINA has be­gun one of the largest naval ex­pan­sions by any coun­try since the end of the Sec­ond World War. In this ex­clu­sive in­ter­view, AD­MI­RAL SU­NIL LANBA, Chair­man, Chiefs of Staff Com­mit­tee, and Chief of Naval Staff, tells Ex­ec­u­tive Ed­i­tor SAN­DEEP UN­NITHAN that the In­dian navy is fully pre­pared to meet the Chi­nese threat

Q. How have the foun­da­tional agree­ments, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion on Se­cu­rity Me­moran­dum of Agree­ment (CISMOA) and Lo­gis­tics Ex­change Me­moran­dum of Agree­ment (LEMOA), signed by In­dia ben­e­fit­ted the forces? LEMOA is a foun­da­tional agree­ment be­tween In­dia and the US, which fa­cil­i­tates ex­change of lo­gis­tics be­tween mil­i­taries of the two na­tions. The agree­ment re­duces pro­ce­dures, per­mis­sions and pa­per­work in­volved dur­ing port call of ships, joint op­er­a­tions, re­fu­elling, peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance and dis­as­ter re­lief (HADR), etc. It al­lows the three ser­vices to utilise the bases for rest, re­pair and re­fu­elling, thereby en­hanc­ing ef­fi­ciency. The Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­pat­i­bil­ity and Se­cu­rity Agree­ment (COMCASA) fa­cil­i­tates In­dia’s util­i­sa­tion of the US-based en­cryp­tion tech­nol­ogy for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in­stead of us­ing vul­ner­a­ble com­mer­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, sen­sors and equip­ment on­board can be up­graded and would be on par with those op­er­ated by the US. Both agree­ments fa­cil­i­tate greater syn­ergy and in­ter­op­er­abil­ity be­tween the In­dian and the US navies. The navy has been fu­elling with US tankers in the Pa­cific and In­dian Ocean. It en­hances our range and reach and is also a cost-ef­fec­tive means of de­ploy­ment be­cause you don’t need to do an op­er­a­tional turn­around in ports.

Q. What is the sta­tus of the third foun­da­tional agree­ment, Ba­sic Ex­change and Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment for Geospa­tial Co­op­er­a­tion (BECA), which is yet to be signed?

The agree­ment pro­vides for ‘no cost’ ex­change of con­trolled geospa­tial prod­ucts, data and ser­vices. The In­dian mil­i­tary will have ac­cess to the US mil­i­tary stan­dards nav­i­ga­tion and mis­sion plan­ning sys­tems that will ben­e­fit air­borne sur­veil­lance. The agree­ment is un­der ex­am­i­na­tion by stake­hold­ers.

Q. What is the scope of the up­com­ing tri-ser­vices ex­er­cise with the US?

It is start­ing with an HADR ex­er­cise, where the navy is the lead ser­vice. We will hold the ex­er­cise ei­ther on the east or the west coast in the sec­ond half of 2019.

Q. What progress has been made on ap­point­ing a naval rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the US Naval Forces Cen­tral Com­mand (NAVCENT)?

The ear­lier pro­posal was to have a li­ai­son of­fi­cer. On Septem­ber 18, the govern­ment cleared the set­ting up of a new de­fence wing at the In­dian em­bassy in Bahrain where the de­fence at­tache, a naval cap­tain, will dou­ble up as our rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the NAVCENT.

Q. Last year, you be­gan mis­sion-based de­ploy­ments—for­ward de­ploy­ing ships in your ar­eas of in­ter­est in the Ara­bian Sea, Bay of Ben­gal and In­dian Ocean re­gion (IOR). What have you learnt from it?

It has demon­strated the reach and sus­tain­abil­ity of the navy. We have de­ployed war­ships in our ar­eas of in­ter­est and re­spon­si­bil­ity. The world has sat up and ac­knowl­edged the ca­pa­bil­ity of the In­dian navy. We have a bet­ter aware­ness of the mar­itime do­main. It has been a year now. We will ex­am­ine it in de­tail on whether or not there is a need to mod­ify it or cover cer­tain other ar­eas.

Q. As the chair­man, chiefs of staff com­mit­tee, do you see the post of the chief of de­fence staff com­ing soon?

The three ser­vices have agreed on the role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a per­ma­nent chair­man, chiefs of staff. This pro­posal was forwarded to the govern­ment ear­lier this year. Now the govern­ment has to take a de­ci­sion.

Q. Since 2014, China has launched more war­ships than the to­tal num­ber of ships in the navies of Ger­many, In­dia, Spain, Tai­wan and the UK. How does it al­ter the mar­itime power bal­ance?

They are com­mis­sion­ing be­tween 12 and 18 ships a year. In the past four-five years, they have com­mis­sioned 80 new ships and sub­marines. No navy has grown at this pace for more than a hun­dred years, not count­ing the two world wars. China’s econ­omy is more than six times that of ours and their de­fence bud­get is more than five times that of ours; they are in­vest­ing large sums in de­vel­op­ing mar­itime ca­pa­bil­ity. We can match what forces China can bring to bear in the IOR. But in the South China Sea, the dice is loaded in their favour.

Q. Does the South China Sea re­main an area of con­cern for us? Of course, it is. The govern­ment has been talk­ing of the Indo-Pa­cific arena, the in­ter­na­tional rules-based or­der, the Free­dom of Nav­i­ga­tion of the Seas; an in­ter­na­tional rules-based or­der needs to be fol­lowed by all coun­tries.

Q. China re­cently de­ployed a sub­ma­rine on pa­trol in the IOR, its eighth in 10 years. Are you now bet­ter placed to track them?

Yes. We tracked the sub­ma­rine as it was en­ter­ing the IOR. The Boe­ing P8-I (long range mar­itime pa­trol air­craft) is a great force mul­ti­plier. We are get­ting four more of them. There is re­quire­ment for 12 more (P8Is), but that is in the fu­ture.

Q. What is the navy’s most ur­gent op­er­a­tional re­quire­ment to­day?

The big­gest ca­pa­bil­ity void is of the he­li­copters. We have got an ac­cep­tance of ne­ces­sity for both the multi-role he­li­copter (MRH) and 111 util­ity he­li­copters and a de­fence ac­qui­si­tion coun­cil ap­proval for 24 MRH as a for­eign mil­i­tary sales case (di­rect im­port from the US). We will take the con­tract sign­ing for­ward so that we start get­ting these plat­forms in the next two-three years. The process has started for the 24 MRHs.

Q. This month is also the 10th an­niver­sary of the 26/11 at­tacks, where there were ac­cu­sa­tions that the navy was lax in let­ting the hi­jacked trawler come through. Can you say that you are bet­ter placed to tackle a threat like that now?

We are much bet­ter placed now than 10 years ago. The Coast Guard has seen a great deal of ac­cre­tion in terms of sys­tems and plat­forms. We have put in a radar and AIS chains along the coast. We are reg­u­larly car­ry­ing out ex­er­cises with the coastal states.

Q. It took the Ari­hant nine years to go from launch to its first deter­rent pa­trol. How long will it take for the next sub­ma­rine, the Arighaat, to its first deter­rent pa­trol?

It will not take as long as the Ari­hant.

Q. At what stage is the plan to build indige­nous nu­clear-pow­ered at­tack sub­marines? We are look­ing at six SSNs (NuclearPow­ered At­tack Sub­marines). It is part of the 30-year sub­ma­rine build­ing plan (to build 24 sub­marines, 18 con­ven­tional and 6 nu­clear). It is at a de­sign stage. The launch of the first SSN is over 10 years away.

THE BIG­GEST CA­PA­BIL­ITY VOID IS OF HE­LI­COPTERS... WE ARE ALSO LOOK­ING AT SIX SSN (NUCLEARPOW­ERED AT­TACK SUB­MARINES)

YASIR IQBAL

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