India — Rising Power, Growing Responsibilities — Building India’s 2020 Navy

The Indi­an Navy has been very for­tu­nate to have had vision­ary lead­ers. From a minor lit­toral force of hand-me-down frigates, sloops and craft at inde­pen­dence, the Navy has now emerged as the fifth largest naval pow­er. How­ev­er in view of the daunt­ing chal­lenges we face we need to do a lot more and ensure this is actu­alised in an oper­a­tional­ly viable time frame. A bril­liant and very well informed arti­cle on the Force Struc­tur­ing needs of the Indi­an Navy. This arti­cle con­ducts a top lev­el gap analy­sis between require­ments and pos­ses­sions and rec­om­mends an action plan to trans­form the Indi­an Navy into a force of the future. The writer address­es the major slip­pages in deliv­ery sched­ules by our DPSUs and response options that ensure that the Indi­an Navy does not get into a sit­u­a­tion of “too lit­tle too late”. Build­ing the 2020 Navy may require some prompt and focused course cor­rec­tions and re-align­ment with the fore­cast oper­a­tional sce­nario of 2022 and beyond.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

The Indi­an Navy has been very for­tu­nate to have had vision­ary lead­ers. From a minor lit­toral force of hand-me-down frigates, sloops and craft at inde­pen­dence, the Navy has now emerged as the fifth largest naval pow­er. This jour­ney has been nei­ther smooth nor easy. The tenac­i­ty of pur­pose and the over­all cor­po­rate con­vic­tion that the chart­ed path of force devel­op­ment would be main­ly through indige­nous capac­i­ty has not wavered, is a clear tes­ti­mo­ny to the navy’s sound lead­er­ship and rank and file con­sen­sus on its iden­ti­ty and self belief.

The Indi­an Navy has long prid­ed itself to be a builder’s Navy. It has been the pio­neer­ing ser­vice pro­mot­ing indige­nous indus­try to deliv­er it the finest ships in the region. Inte­grat­ing cut­ting edge weapons, sen­sors and sophis­ti­cat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions with advanced propul­sion and pow­er pack­ages from diverse sources to make state-of-the-art ships designed by the Navy is a splen­did achieve­ment and the Indi­an Navy can be just­ly proud of this her­itage. How­ev­er, dogged­ly pur­su­ing an indige­nous only agen­da at the cost of major time over runs is risky.

Though self reliance must indeed be the final objec­tive but that does not mean that every item of a sys­tem is sourced only from indige­nous ven­dors. Self reliance, in today’s con­text, means a mix­ture of glob­al buy and localised “buy or make” deci­sions that syn­er­gise the com­pet­i­tive advan­tage of each par­tic­i­pat­ing ven­dor for the com­mon ben­e­fit of reduced costs, faster deliv­er­ies and most impor­tant­ly, supe­ri­or qual­i­ty and sys­tem per­for­mance.

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The mod­erni­sa­tion chal­lenge

Much has been debat­ed about mod­erni­sa­tion and trans­for­ma­tion of the Indi­an Navy. It is there­fore impor­tant to devel­op a com­mon under­stand­ing of mod­erni­sa­tion. A mod­el that has been devel­oped by the writer sug­gests that mod­erni­sa­tion can be visu­alised as a three tier activ­i­ty as sum­marised in Fig­ure above. The Navy has to clear­ly bal­ance the three tier options in the light of the com­plex­i­ties and pro­ce­dur­al require­ments of the Defence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure.

Ships and sub­marines

Naval force lev­el require­ments, expressed as a capa­bil­i­ty state­ment, has been defined in terms of a Bot­tom Up-Top Down capa­bil­i­ty cen­tric per­spec­tive plan that defines the plat­forms that the Indi­an Navy would require to ful­fil its mis­sions until 2022 and the asso­ci­at­ed organ­i­sa­tion that would sup­port it. The Indi­an Coast Guard has also drawn up a plan envis­ag­ing tripling force lev­els in a decade. Not sur­pris­ing­ly the fore­most mis­sion is to com­bine forces to win deci­sive­ly in war and ensure adher­ence to the con­stab­u­lary and cus­tom laws of the state. How­ev­er, con­flicts are not always won by force alone but para­dox­i­cal­ly force lev­el dis­par­i­ties set the stage for con­flict.

The Indi­an Navy has long prid­ed itself to be a builder’s Navy. It has been the pio­neer­ing ser­vice pro­mot­ing indige­nous indus­try to deliv­er it the finest ships in the region. Inte­grat­ing cut­ting edge weapons, sen­sors and sophis­ti­cat­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions with advanced propul­sion and pow­er pack­ages from diverse sources to make state-of-the-art ships designed by the Navy is a splen­did achieve­ment and the Indi­an Navy can be just­ly proud of this her­itage. How­ev­er, dogged­ly pur­su­ing an indige­nous only agen­da at the cost of major time over­runs is risky

The chal­lenge for force lev­el plan­ning experts has always remained the uncer­tain­ties of the future strate­gic envi­ron­ment; the tech­no­log­i­cal advances that could change the nature of war­fare at sea; and, its con­se­quent impli­ca­tions on struc­ture and com­po­si­tion. First, there is no agree­ment on what the next war might look like, although Chi­na by all accounts would def­i­nite­ly con­sti­tute the main oppo­si­tion to Indi­an inter­ests in the region. Sec­ond­ly, out of area con­tin­gen­cies in sup­port of nation­al pol­i­cy and pro­tec­tion of Indi­an inter­est and assets — rapid­ly diver­si­fy­ing and dis­trib­uted across the world — is a new phe­nom­e­non pos­ing addi­tion­al chal­lenges to force plan­ning. Third­ly, the peren­ni­al debate between the sub­ma­rine arm and the sur­face Navy on whether the future lies in sub­marines or air­craft car­ri­ers has to be addressed. With­in sub­marines also, the mer­its of con­ven­tion­al ver­sus nuclear-pow­ered sub­marines are still debat­ed and with­in the air­craft car­ri­er con­stituen­cy the size and type are always a source of con­tro­ver­sy. Final­ly, sub-region­al con­flicts that may arise out of 26/11 sce­nar­ios and bound­ary dis­putes can­not be wished away. Hence, con­cep­tu­al­is­ing a force for the future is tru­ly a chal­lenge since acqui­si­tion deci­sions tak­en and com­mit­ments made can­not be eas­i­ly reversed.

Force lev­els have essen­tial­ly two com­po­nents viz. force struc­tur­ing and force com­po­si­tion. In all force struc­tur­ing deci­sions the key ele­ment is of bud­getary pro­vi­sions and indige­nous capa­bil­i­ty.

Basic prin­ci­ples of force struc­tur­ing have remained stead­fast over the last 60 years. The abid­ing con­stants have been the need for a two Car­ri­er Bat­tle Group (CBG), Local Naval Defence (LND) forces for the major naval bases, a well defined sub­ma­rine force, shore-based long range anti-sub­ma­rine and patrol air­craft and ship-borne inte­gral air­craft / heli­copters. This would mean a sur­face fleet of three air­craft car­ri­ers, about 40–42 frigates and destroy­ers, four afloat sup­port ships, 80–100 minor LND forces and about 24 sub­marines. Esti­mates on require­ments of nuclear sub­marines vary. In addi­tion, force pro­jec­tion would require com­men­su­rate amphibi­ous ships of the Land­ing Plat­form Dock (LPD) sup­port­ed with island hop­ping Land­ing Craft.

The Navy and increas­ing­ly the Coast Guard, true to its char­ac­ter of being a builder’s force, has sourced these plat­forms to the extent fea­si­ble from Indi­an ship­builders which have so far been pre­dom­i­nant­ly DPSUs. This is a fatal mis­take. If force lev­els and sys­tems can­not be pro­cured in some rea­son­able time frame the Navy must find wis­dom in its own advice to its Cap­tains — “Swal­low your pride, take a tug, save the ship’s side”. Whether the time has come to swal­low pride and source from out­side only a capa­bil­i­ty gap analy­sis will reveal. Deliv­er­ies are faster, qual­i­ty is supe­ri­or and costs are less­er. The three Tal­war Class frigates, under pro­cure­ment from Yan­tar Ship­yard, Rus­sia at a total cost of Rs 5,400 crore have been made avail­able at only about 40 per cent of the cost of the three P 17s being built at MDL for Rs 8,800 crore and with equal if not bet­ter capa­bil­i­ty. These three ships would be induct­ed in five years whilst domes­tic ship­yards, on their own, may pos­si­bly deliv­er them over not less than 10–13 years. That capac­i­ty build­ing is more impor­tant than local sourc­ing is evi­dent from the fact that even Rus­sia is procur­ing the Mis­tral Class Land­ing Ship Docks (LPD) and build­ing addi­tion­al ships in tech­ni­cal part­ner­ship with France.

So far as force com­po­si­tion is con­cerned a faith­ful bal­ance needs to be struck between lit­toral and open seas require­ments with­in the like­ly bud­getary sup­port that may be antic­i­pat­ed. This is not a dif­fi­cult task. Allow­ing for an 8 per cent growth in GDP, an allo­ca­tion of about 1.8 per cent towards defence expen­di­ture of which about 17 per cent would be the Navy’s share and final­ly a mix of 60 per cent towards cap­i­tal and bal­ance 40 per cent towards rev­enue will give a fair idea of the antic­i­pat­ed bud­getary sup­port. How­ev­er, cre­at­ing the bal­ance is a very tricky issue and to have it per­fect is a tall order for any force plan­ner. Aug­men­ta­tion in force lev­els and tech­nol­o­gy to hedge against all forms of con­flict in open sea and pro­vide the teeth to aggres­sive diplo­ma­cy is a giv­en. Nev­er­the­less, the first require­ment would be to secure the mar­itime fron­tiers at the coast­line and in the islands and off­shore struc­ture hold­ings of India. This would require that Indi­an mar­itime forces are not only mod­ern but are also of con­tem­po­rary rel­e­vance to the Indi­an state. Lofty dec­la­ra­tions of pow­er pro­jec­tion may be music to a sailor’s ear but coastal sur­veil­lance and pro­tec­tion from wan­ton acts of vio­lence is the citizen’s first pri­or­i­ty.

For a three car­ri­er navy in ser­vice by 2022 it is log­i­cal that the sup­port­ing ships — 24 frigates and destroy­ers — should be avail­able by then. In addi­tion, six to eight destroy­ers and frigates are required in any oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment for Con­voy pro­tec­tion oper­a­tions and lit­toral war­fare require­ments. Con­sid­er­ing even 30 per cent of these forces are under refit / main­te­nance the total require­ment works out to 40–42 destroy­ers and frigates. Against this require­ment about six frigates and five destroy­ers would have reached the end of their already much extend­ed ser­vice life by 2022. Five frigates and three destroy­ers are under con­struc­tion which would enter ser­vice by 2016. Sev­en frigates and four destroy­ers have been approved by DAC for induc­tion by 2022. The net accre­tion would, there­fore, be only sev­en frigates and two destroy­ers which would at best pro­vide a force lev­el of 29 frigates and destroy­ers. There­fore, the navy would still require anoth­er 11–13 frigates and destroy­ers pro­vid­ed the exist­ing orders are deliv­ered on time. The net defi­cien­cy that needs cor­rec­tive action now is for a capa­bil­i­ty gap of about 4–5 destroy­ers and 7–8 frigates. In addi­tion, about 6–8 corvettes would be required for Local Naval Defence (LND) func­tions. Con­sid­er­ing that the DPSU ship­yards are already ful­ly booked to capac­i­ty the gap of 11–13 destroy­ers and frigates and 6–8 corvettes must be bridged by Indi­an Pri­vate Sec­tor Ship­yards as a Buy and Make Indi­an project with some strate­gic imports. One option would be to build anoth­er 8 frigates of the proven Tal­war Class in India as a col­lab­o­ra­tive ven­ture between an Indi­an Ship­yard and Yan­tar Ship­yard, Kalin­ingrad.

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