Indian Navy, the fifth largest naval fleet in the world, is emerging as one of the most formidable naval forces in the Asia-Pacific region. After years of transformation, the force is steadily sailing towards realising the much anticipated ‘blue-water navy’ capabilities.

The navy which is in-charge of guarding the country against hostile sea-borne threats is also at the epicentre of India’s power projection policies. Under the command of the navy are over 123 frontline battleships, 15 submarines and 235 combat and surveillance aircraft.

A recent report by the ‘Standing Committee on Defence’ has raised serious concerns about the navy’s capabilities in countering the increasing hostilities in the region. The report was framed taking into consideration the current composition of the fleet, problems plaguing the fleet and the delays in acquisition program.

Even though the navy is on a transformation curve, the standing committee has noted that the current curve is not effectively capable of answering to the surging hostilities in the Indian Ocean Region. The navy’s transformation process is maturing under the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) 2012-2027 and the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LIPP).

According to these programs, the navy is mandated to operate 212 warships and submarines and 458 aircraft by 2027. The navy has maintained that this rapid increase in the fleet composition can alone replace the rapidly aging platforms and also counter the increasing hostile activities by neighbouring states in the IOR.

In 2012, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) accorded its principal clearance for MCPP 2012-2027 program and also laid out the draft for operating 198 warships and submarines by 2027. The standing committee report, however, has raised concerns in regard to the country’s efforts and capabilities in reaching this ambitious target.

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

Currently, the navy operates 145 combatants which has just breached the 138 warship operational plan that was envisioned way back in 1964. The report notes that it is a treacherous way forward for navy, given the repeated inordinate delays and cost overruns that have plagued every single acquisition program of the force.

To meet the navy’s demand, India currently is constructing at least 45 warships and submarines at various Indian shipyards. The committee has in particular raised apprehensions about the delays and cost overruns plaguing the P-15B, P-28, P-17A and the IAC (Indigenous Aircraft Carrier) program. It has noted that these programs have all suffered an average delay of at least 5 years.

The P-15A program which armed the navy with three 7,500 tonne stealth guided missile destroyers was completed four years behind schedule at a cost of 11,662 crore, while the allotted amount stood at INR 3,580 crore. The P28 program – under which the navy is to acquire four missile corvettes – is also over 2 years behind schedule and has an estimated cost overrun of over INR 4801.7 crore.

After successive discussions with all associated stoke holders in regard to the IAC-I program, the committee has noted that it is nowhere near completion and the navy is bound to operate a lone carrier battle group (CBG) till at least 2020.

Further, the committee has also pulled up DRDO, India’s premier defence technology provider, for the delay in NLCA program. With the Russian origin MiG-29K failing to meet navy’s demands, the force is scouting for a foreign fighter. Citing lengthy procurement procedures the navy has followed, the committee has questioned if a foreign fighter will really be available before the induction of the carrier.

The high powered committee has also noted that navy’s capabilities in protecting its assets and ports will be largely limited as it will operate without Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMV) at least until 2021.

The committee has raised alarms on the navy’s capabilities on the underwater front. It has noted that the current 15 submarines under the operational command of navy are rapidly aging and lack credible punch to answer to the maturing regional maritime operational environment. The P-75 program, which was to arm the navy with six ‘Scorpene’ diesel-electric submarines, is delayed by at least 4 years.

INS Chakra on its delivery cruise.

The navy and MoD in a written reply to the committee’s query regarding acquiring foreign submarines have noted that any ‘off-the-shelve’ procurement remain largely economically unviable. The navy has further noted that mid-life refit programs are the lone viable option available for it to maintain its underwater force.

The committee after exhaustive review of the navy’s aviation wing has noted that the force lacks a reliable procurement procedure to meet the deficit. While the force is short of at least 150 Multi Role Helicopters, the government has made little head way with the initial tender for 16 Sikorsky S-70 B helicopters. MoD is now seeking to float a new tender after the US-based company is seeking mid-way cost revision for the tender. The navy has strongly opposed this move and has recently even submitted a dissent note to the MoD.

While the navy has ordered four additional Boeing P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, it is yet to float a solid program to acquire a medium range surveillance platform.

Even as India’s maritime interest diversifies from its traditional backyard – the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), these short fallings in the force threaten to largely tip-off the maritime superiority the Indian Navy has largely enjoyed in the Indian Ocean Region. Concrete efforts by all stakeholders alone can pave the way forward for the Indian Navy.

© Karthik Kakoor