The Indian Navy has just commissioned the INS Mormugao, a 7,400-tonne destroyer. Three months ago the prime minister commissioned the country’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, the 45,000-tonne Vikrant. The navy may also be about to commission its second nuclear ballistic missile submarine, the INS Arighat. Meanwhile, the fifth conventional Scorpene submarine, the INS Vageer, has been delivered to the navy and will be commissioned early next year along with the first of a new class of frigates.
Is it an encouraging trend?
- There is no previous period when the navy acquired so many major, front-line ships and submarines in such short order. Last year, 2021, was also busy as it saw the commissioning of two Scorpene submarines and a destroyer.
- This would suggest that the navy’s expansion is gaining momentum, and in some ways that would be true. But one must also look at the longer-term picture. Compared to 2021 and 2022, the previous two years (2019 and 2020) saw the commissioning of just one submarine and a 3,300-tonne corvette, while 2018 saw no major addition to the fleet.
- Broadly speaking the trend since 2011 continues, of commissioning an average of two major warships annually.
Need for speed and quality –
- That is an improvement on the decade before, but each ship still takes too long to get built: Seven to nine years for a destroyer, frigate or corvette — more than twice what it takes for China.
- Even then, key accompaniments are missing at the time of commissioning, like the right long-range, air-defence missiles, heavyweight torpedoes, anti-submarine helicopters and even carrier-borne aircraft.
- It has not helped that the INS Vikramaditya, the aircraft carrier acquired from the Soviet Union and commissioned in 2013, has been in dry dock repeatedly, the latest being for an extended period. One report said recently that no aircraft has landed on either of India’s carriers in the last two years.
Building a ‘Blue Water’ Navy –
- India is steadily building its naval strength. The next batch of seven 6,600-tonne frigates will introduce modular construction, thereby speeding up shipbuilding by about two years.
- While Mazagon Dock remains the primary builder of destroyers and frigates, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Cochin Shipyard and Goa Shipyard are all capable now of building bigger, more complex vessels, as is the nuclear submarine-building complex at Visakhapatnam. To that list must be added a ship design and yard facility developed by Larsen & Toubro near Chennai.
- With Beijing also developing various facilities, including a naval base, around the Indian Ocean rim, India’s navy will be challenged in its home waters before long. Yet, given limited defence budgets, there are not enough orders to keep the shipyards humming, although many smaller ships – like shallow-water craft for anti-submarine warfare – are on order.
- The under-sized submarine fleet in particular has mostly ageing boats that date as far back as the 1980s, but Mazagon’s submarine shed will run out of orders after delivering its sixth and last Scorpene submarine. The follow-on order for another six has been repeatedly delayed; potential bidders are reluctant because of what they see as unacceptable terms.
- Meanwhile, the defence minister surprised observers recently when he said that India has started constructing what will be the fleet’s third carrier; little has been heard of this order before or since. Bids to win export orders from Malaysia, Brazil and the Philippines have been lost to the competition.
Way forward –
The challenges facing the navy therefore are manifold: Inadequate budgets, delays in placing orders and then in construction, poorly coordinated delivery schedules, and the challenge from China. These issues need debate, even as the navy celebrates the commissioning of major warships and submarines in quick succession.
Source – Business Standard
QUESTION – There have been positive developments in the Indian Navy’s blue-water Navy ambitions but it comes with several challenges as well. Discuss the issue in brief and outline the areas where the focus needs to be put in the coming times.