Seaplanes for Maritime Safety and Security
The seaplanes have utility that is truly unique. Therefore, it is indeed to the credit of the Indian Navy to have commenced the process of acquisition of a valuable modern asset—the amphibian aircraft
SP’S SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
THE INDIAN NAVY’S ACQUISITION plans should aim at achieving risk reduction by creating a balanced force that offsets any regional inequities, maintains credible capability and is commensurate with India’s growing status as a responsible maritime power. The Indian Navy first and foremost should work with the simple objective of defeating the enemies of the state. But as a rising power, the Indian Navy will also have to take early baby steps to live up to the global aspirations and regional commitments, particularly to meet the benign and constabulary functions of a powerful Navy—a veritable force for good. These functions include standing surety for the safety of the SLOCs that criss-cross the North Indian Ocean and at least up to the Straits of Malacca; deliver extended search and rescue (SAR) and humanitarian assistance during natural disasters (HAND) to the littoral nations of the Indian Ocean Region. Development of such capabilities and induction of the appropriate enabling systems signals a firm regional commitment towards continued regional stability and maritime safety and is also an affirmation of delivering on the natural responsibilities that come with great power status.
From a maritime perspective, this power status contributes to burden sharing towards protection of global public goods and the oceanic commons to achieve firstly, freedom of navigation and safety at sea; secondly, promote regional stability through an open and participative security architecture; thirdly, proactively alleviate suffering during disasters in the littorals of friendly nations; and finally a constabulary capacity to maintain order at sea for the common good. While ships, submarines and aircraft are all qualified in some way or the other for fulfill- ing the above missions, each of these platforms are limited by some capability gap or the other. In addition, vulnerabilities of assets to attack by enemy forces or by natural forces pose a real problem to timely and opportune deployment in crisis. Seaplanes make possible a range of options not achievable by any other platform.
Although seaplanes were first inducted into naval operations as early as March 1911, modern technological advances has now made it possible for seaplanes to conduct a variety of operations ranging from benign, constabulary and even military operations. Seaplanes for India are a veritable force multiplier as these can fulfil a multitude of missions. These can be to provide much needed island support of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep Islands; offshore assets protection; surveillance and intelligence gathering for enhanced maritime domain awareness; transoceanic SAR and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC); extended range fleet logistic support during long deployments including ferrying spares and maintenance personnel directly to the affected ship; long-range visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations; HAND operations; countering small arms and drugs trafficking, human migration, poaching, toxic cargo dumping, etc. In addition, seaplanes can be deployed for special operations by Commandos and recovery by sea post completion of the operation in the islands and littoral areas.
Under the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), “every coastal state shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements in cooperation with neighbouring states for this purpose.” Seaplanes fit this purpose completely. As regards piracy, one of the more pressing international problems facing seafaring community today is as the UNCLOS states “[A] seizure on account of piracy may be carried out only by warships or military aircraft, or other ships or aircraft, clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorised to that effect.” This is another function that military seaplanes can easily do with greater speed and far lesser cost. The ‘Right of Visit’ and ‘Right of Hot Pursuit’ is mutatis mutandis, also applicable to military aircraft and once again seaplanes are a very suitable vehicle for this task. Thus, even under UNCLOS, the seaplanes are an efficient, effective and economic option for safe and secure seas.
The seaplanes have utility that is truly unique. Therefore, it is indeed to the credit of the Indian Navy to have commenced the process of acquisition of a valuable modern asset—the amphibian aircraft. A request for information (RFI) for induction of seaplanes was issued early last year. It is reported that the major contenders are Bombardier, Beriev and ShinMaywa. Of them, the most advanced and versatile aircraft and the only aircraft in-service by any Navy and built to military specifications is the ShinMaywa’s US-2. The US-2 uses the same engines and propellers as the C130J, and thereby, common maintenance efforts will be required which would reduce operational costs. The US-2 is the best in class product.