Indian Navy’s Quest to Attain Blue Water Capabilities

21st century has witnessed unparalleled growth of India’s economic, technological and military prowess. As the country’s sphere of influence gradually grows in these arenas, there has been an increase in the country’s dependence on the immediate maritime environment. The fact that India’s 90 % of trade quotient by volume and 70% by value is still directly dependent on the criss-crossing Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) traversing through the Indian Ocean punctuates the strategic importance of these waters to the country.

This increasing dependence on the encompassing waters and the ever expanding maritime interests of the country have mandated the Indian Navy to resort for a renewed push to modernize its sea going fleet. India’s emergence as a leading regional power and an emerging security partner in the contested Indo-Pacific region and the increasing security-cum-threat calculus in the region has only increased the need for a credible naval force.

With its fleet of 140+ front-line battle vessels, the Indian Navy has been efficiently guarding the nation’s coast, EEZ and the far stretched maritime interest of the country against sea-borne threats. Efforts are now largely interjected towards guarding the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the encompassing waters spread across the Navy’s operational horizon stretching from the Malacca Straits to the Strait of Hormuz overlooking the Persian Gulf.

Sustained modernization plans have enabled the Navy to sail ever closer towards realizing its dreams of operating a credible ‘Blue Water’ Navy. Indian Navy’s current fleet is mainly composed a single aircraft carrier, 14 attack submarines, 9 guided-missile destroyers and 15 stealth frigates.

These vessels undoubtedly form a formidable force, but still fall well short of guarding India’s increasing maritime assets. The government having taken note of these blaring issues has launched several proactive initiatives to arm the Navy to the teeth.

Since the past decade, the Navy has been inducting 4 to 5 combatants per year. The Navy in the 80’s, had around 23 ships under its control and today the number has reached a staggering 140+ vessels. This growth can be accounted to the Navy’s unabated support to Indian made products.

As Chinese intrude into India’s backyard, it is critical that the Navy boosts of the latest combatants. Navy’s modernization plans have chalked out route maps to operate at least 200 battle vessels by 2025. Indian Navy currently has over 48 surface and under-water combatants under construction at various Indian shipyards.

 

INS Khanderi; Indian Navy; Scorpene Submarines; Make in India
INS Khanderi during its launch in January; Courtesy – Indian Navy

India’s pressing need is for submarines, which play a critical role not only in combats, but also during peace times in performing ISR missions.

The Navy operates 1 Akula-class SSN, 9 Kilo-class and 4 HDW Type-209 SSKs. On the contrary, the Chinese have close to 70 submarines, but the worry for India is SSNs and SSBNs.

China’s state-run channels, have several times quoted top naval officials, boosting of having the capabilities to blockade India using just its six SSNs. Aging under-water combatants of the Indian Navy will surely find it hard to level out against their Chinese counterparts.

India’s P75 and P75I programs, which were to equip the Navy with six ultra-quiet diesel-electric submarines each, have been delayed for years. The P75 program, under which Scorpene submarines are being built, is over 4 years late. A commercial bid for the P75I program is yet to be floated out, even though a RFI has been issued earlier this year.

The government has recently green lighted Navy’s demand for six SSNs, which will be built in Indian shipyards. MoD has on several occasions publicly accepted the sorry state of India’s silent forces and has admitted India will need more than the planned 24 submarines to counter the increased Chinese presence.

Another major concern for the country’s submarine forces will be the inordinate delays in modernization programs and in acquisition of critical sub-systems for these submarines. Deficiencies range from the crucial torpedoes to electronic batteries.

The Indian Navy, however, puts up a vibrant show when it comes to the surface and aerial ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) combatants. India, under its control, has about a dozen ASW corvettes which can hunt down lurking submarines. Project – 28, under which the Navy is acquiring four corvettes, is progressing in a steady pace. The Navy has already inducted three of these warships; the last of the corvette under the Kamorta-class corvettes – INS Kavaratti – is to be inducted early next year.

The government is working up on clearing Navy’s request for procuring at least eight more corvettes under Project – 28A, as a follow-on tender to Project – 28.

On the aerial front, the addition of Boeing manufactured P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft has given the Navy ears and eyes across its operational horizon. The aircraft with its sensory package is capable of detecting the slightest anomaly on the ocean floor. Armed with depth charges and torpedoes, the aircraft are death warrants for lurking submarines.

Eight such P8I’s are under the Navy’s command and these aircraft are stationed at INS Rajali close to Chennai. P8I’s, since their induction have prowled waters across navy’s spear of influence. By 2022, Indian Navy will have four more P8I’s under its command and the number is expected to reach at least 24 by the next decade.

One of the Indian Navy’s Air Conclave; Courtesy – Indian Navy.

The induction rate of surface combatants like destroyers and frigates are progressing almost as per plans. Inclusion of Kolkata-class destroyers, Shivalik-class and Talwar-class stealth frigates have greatly enhanced the firing power of the Navy.

By 2030, Indian Navy will be commissioning at least 40 front-line vessels to its force. With projects P-28, P-15A, P-15B and P-17 gaining traction, Indian shipyards plan to culminate these programs well before respective deadlines. The addition of these surface combatants will enable India to counter the Chinese influence in the region.

However, there exists a gaping hole in the Navy’s minesweeping and amphibious operation capabilities. While in the amphibious role, the Navy is employing several aged vessels. It is left with virtually no combatants to sanitize against naval mines. Tenders for acquiring both these vessels have made no progress since their introduction.

As far as Navy’s capabilities in projecting its power, the force looks set for regaining its unique status of operating twin aircraft carrier battle groups by 2021. While the 45,000 tonne in-service aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya will lead the power projection missions, the under-construction aircraft carrier INS Vikrant will supplement the Vikky after 2021. These massive floating airstrips promise to serve as force multipliers for India’s ‘Act East’ policy.

India is rumoured to have already completed its nuclear triad with the induction of INS Arihant in mid-2016. Even as the ATV program matures, the government has already green lighted the construction of six nuclear powered attack submarines. The additions of nuclear-powered vessels which enjoy unhindered ranges are bound to deter the Chinese presence.

The introduction of the Strategic Partnership (SP) model has paved the way for the introduction of RFIs for several strategic projects. The Navy has introduced RFIs for acquiring hundreds of Naval Multi Role and Utility helicopters, at least 3 squadrons of Multi Role Carrier Borne Fighter (MRCBF) aircraft and at least six stealth enabled diesel-electric submarines.

The Navy is also working towards undertaking quality maintenance and efficient logistics management to ensure optimum performance and operational safety at all times.

While the induction of these platforms promises to add credible strike power to the Navy, the force is also working towards enhancing its infrastructural support along the country’s coast. The Navy has constituted the construction of at least two major naval bases on both the sea boards.

Due efforts are also being made by the Navy to develop effective leadership and it has accorded the highest priority in developing and retaining well-trained, highly-motivated and skilled professionals.

INS Vikramaditya docked in INS Kadamba, Karwar; Source – Sitanshu Kar, DPR, MoD.

On the policy planning front, India is actively gaining support for its ‘Act East’ policy, which it formed exclusively to check the on-slaught of the Chinese. India has garnered support of Vietnam, Japan and other littoral states in the region. Successive efforts from the government have made sure that India has gained solid ground on the geopolitical front. Even though there existed reservations regarding India’s position in Trump Administration’s amended foreign policy, this has now been reversed.

Optimisation of resources, Navy’s embrace of innovation and indigenisation promise to help it accomplish missions across the full spectrum of naval operations. Today, the Western and Eastern seaboards of the country are better guarded than ever. With constant addition of advanced maritime platforms, the Indian Navy is poised to attain the coveted ‘blue water’ navy status at the earliest. The recent initiatives of the government and Navy’s support for indigenization promise to propel forward the growth prospectus of the navy. By 2030, the Indian Navy will help India project her power across the waters.

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