‘Fully Capable and Always Ready’
VAYU Interview with Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of the Naval Staff
On the eve of Indian Navy Day 2017, Vayu interviewed with Admiral Sunil Lanba on a range of issues and was assured that the Indian Navy is fully capable of tackling all the existing and emerging challenges in the maritime domain.
VAYU : Observing the current defence preparedness scenario, analysts have pinpointed the existence of ‘ critical hollowness’ as regards deficiencies in weapon systems, ammunition and equipment. Force structure and modernisation constantly come up against fiscal challenges, especially with a shrinking defence budget (in real, if not absolute terms) and increased pension burden. What steps are being taken to overcome this in the context of the Indian Navy?
CNS: The Indian Navy remains committed to translate its modernisation plans into action in a time- bound and effective manner. While doing so, we also remain prepared to respond to the present and emerging challenges in the maritime domain. The fiscal constraints in the modernisation process, if any, are addressed jointly with all concerned stakeholders. More emphasis is being laid on prioritisation, rationalisation and economy of expenditure. Greater value for money is being achieved by encouraging procurements from indigenous sources. Manpower requirements are also being rationalised through automation of platforms and outsourcing of non- core functions. The government has recently delegated certain financial powers to the Service Headquarters for procurement of critical ammunition and spares. These would help us in overcoming some of the existing shortages. Let me take this opportunity to assure your readers that the Indian Navy is fully capable of tackling all the existing and emerging challenges in the maritime domain.
VAYU : The Indian Navy currently operates only 13 old conventional submarines, 10 of which are older than 25 years, and with low availability rates reported for the fleet. What are the key goals for Project 75 (India) with regard to timely induction of new boats, and how will the programme be managed to minimise the delays and escalations that plagued the preceding Project 75 (Kalvari-class)?
CNS: As on date, the Indian Navy operates 14 conventional submarines including the first submarine of Project-75, Kalvari, which was delivered recently. Trials of the second submarine under this project, Khanderi, are also progressing well. We have imbibed correct lessons in the process and I am certain that the subsequent deliveries will materialise as per schedule. INS Chakra,
the nuclear powered submarine ( SSN) inducted into the Navy in 2012 has added further teeth to the underwater warfare capability. The indigenously built nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Arihant has put the Navy in a select league of nations capable of operating SSBNs. While we work upon these projects, the interim deficiencies are being made good through modernisation of older submarines by Medium Refit-cum-Life Certification to maintain the operational edge. You would be aware that Project 75(I) which will add six more submarines to our inventory is being pursued under the new guidelines for ‘ Strategic Partnership ( SP) Model’. This model facilitates faster absorption of new technologies and creation of a robust domestic ecosystem for supporting the entire life cycle of the platform. We are optimistic about early conclusion of contract and timely execution of this project.
: China is reported to have built new military facilities on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and have commissioned their first overseas base in Djibouti on the African east coast, in addition to de facto bases in Pakistan (Gwadar) and Sri Lanka (Hambantota). With a clear drive towards expansion of Chinese influence in the IOR, what steps is the Navy taking with regard to securing island territories and countering Chinese naval influence in the region?
CNS: We are fully seized of the growing concerns regarding the presence of extraregional maritime forces in the Indian Ocean region. As a professional military force, we lay a lot of stress on Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) and constantly evaluate the maritime security environment in our areas of interest. Our deployment philosophy is also re-worked periodically to adequately address the current and evolving security threats. The Indian Navy operates a balanced force comprising aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, tankers, amphibious ships and a multitude of aviation and sub-surface combatants. Together, these platforms are capable of undertaking all mandated operations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. Our capabilities will continue to grow in consonance with our well thought out perspective plans. Let me also highlight that, over a period of time, we have developed very healthy, multilayered and mutually beneficial maritime cooperation structures with most of our maritime neighbours. We have a shared vision of maritime security and all attempts are made to address these concerns together. As regards your specific query on security of our own islands, let me assure you that the force accretion and infrastructure development at both our island groups is very high on our agenda. Our Navy is fully capable and always ready to meet any challenges that may arise in the future.
: Although capital ships receive significant public attention, a large proportion of the Navy’s smaller vessels – corvettes, missile boats and the like – are ageing or obsolescent. What is the Navy’s priority for renewal of the surface vessel fleet in the near future?
CNS: As you rightly brought out, induction of smaller vessels may often miss the public eye. However, our modernisation programme includes induction of smaller vessels, which play an important role in enhancing the overall maritime security of the country. The first three Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) corvettes under Project-28 have already been commissioned with the fourth one also likely to join the Navy in another two years. Construction of Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels (NOPVs) is well underway at M/ s Reliance Naval and Engineering Limited ( RNEL), Gujarat. The first three of these ships are expected to be delivered very soon. This year, we also inducted two Landing Craft Utility (LCU) MK IV ships built at M/s GRSE, Kolkata and more of these vessels will follow over the next two years. Induction of Water Jet Fast Attack Crafts (WJFACs), Fast Interceptor Crafts (FICs) and Intermediate Support Vessels (ISVs) has augmented our coastal
security significantly. Some of the other projects that are being pursued include Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs), Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) Shallow Water Craft as well as Next Generation Missile Vessels (NGMVs). It is indeed a long list; but these smaller vessels are equally important for the Navy and adequate focus is being accorded to these projects.
VAYU : The Navy has issued RFIs for 234 much- needed rotorcraft, split into 111 utility helicopters and 123 multirole helicopters. What has the industry response been, and what is the Navy’s desired timeline to begin inducting these rotorcraft types? CNS: You must be aware that these two projects are being pursued under the newly introduced ‘ Strategic Partnership ( SP)’ model. The responses to both these RFIs have been very encouraging. Several OEMs have shown interest towards manufacturing these helicopters in India. We are hopeful that the induction of Naval Utility Helicopter ( NUH), which is the basic ship borne utility helicopter, will fructify in another five to six years. However, the
Naval Multi Role Helicopter (NMRH), as the name suggests, is a relatively larger helicopter with sophisticated weapons and sensors. Therefore, the induction of NMRH may take few years more than the NUH project.
VAYU : During Finance Minister (and then- Defence Minister) Arun Jaitley’s visit to Japan in September this year, the acquisition of US-2 amphibious aircraft did not come up as prominently as it has in the past. Is this requirement being reassessed by the Navy?
CNS: An amphibious aircraft does have added advantages with regard to greater operational flexibility in certain roles. These aircraft can enhance the mission efficiency in inter-Island operations, since it would not require a land based runway. Such aircraft can also undertake a variety of tasks including special operations, logistics and technical assistance to ships at sea, long range search and rescue, medical evacuation and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief ( HADR) operations. You would perhaps recall that the aviation arm of the Indian Navy was initially established with induction of the amphibious aircraft ‘Sealand.’ It would be advantageous, on many counts, to reclaim that capability.
: There has been a flurry of press reports in recent months regarding Indian carrier aviation. The Navy received responses to its RFI for 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) but reports indicated issues with some fighters’ ability to safely operate from current and planned aircraft carriers. Could you clarify the reasons for this fighter requirement as well as the carriers intended to host these aircraft? CNS: There have been concerns regarding the ability of some of the contenders of the Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighters to operate from the existing carriers. This is mainly due to their wingspan in relation to the dimensions of the lift. The concerned manufacturers have been asked to work out methods to overcome these limitations. Several solutions have been offered by the OEMs, which are being examined in detail. We are primarily looking at these fighters for operations from our existing and under construction aircraft carriers.
The Airbus AS565 Panther (above) and Sikorsky Sea Hawk (below) are considered as leading contenders for the Indian Navy’s NUH and NMRH requirements respectively
The Indian Navy has already commissioned three Project 28 ASW corvettes (lead ship INS Kamorta pictured)
Thank you Sir ! Pushpindar Singh, of Vayu, with the Navy Chief (photo: Indian Navy)