Saturday, December 5, 2009

Indian Navy's new MiG 29 K fighters arrive

By Arun Kumar Singh
Indian Navy As is well known, after 26/11 the Indian Navy (IN) was given the additional responsibility of coastal security. It is a common military principle that the “security of own base” is paramount. It is foolhardy to conduct distant blue water operations only to find that your unguarded base (eg, Mumbai) has been devastated by terrorists, or by a surprise enemy strike. Navy Day, on December 4, 2009, is an appropriate occasion to talk about the “blue water” requirements of the Navy.

Any Navy takes about 15 to 20 years to build a capability based on crystal-ball-gazing for the next half-a-century. Unfortunately, this crystal ball is not always accurate and urgent changes become essential sometimes. The Indian Navy, already saddled with blue water anti-piracy patrolling off the distant Gulf of Aden, needs to factor in the threat of maritime terror, while its limited budget needs to be optimised to also cater for the Chinese Navy’s blue water threat, expected by 2025, along with the needs of nuclear-submarine-based second-strike capability.

Medium Naval Powers like Britain and France maintain a fleet of a Dozen tactical nuclear submarines (SSNs) and four strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs), but have decided to keep Only One Aircraft Carrier each. The Chinese (when they get their carrier in 2012) will have a similar ratio, while the Russians have a much higher ratio of nuclear submarines to carriers. America, with global expeditionary warfare capabilities, is an exception — it has 62 nuclear submarines and 11 aircraft carriers. I was, therefore, surprised by a foreign media news item which said that “India has recently lodged a firm expression of interest to buy one of the two state-of-the-art 65,000 tonne carriers, which are still being built by in the UK” (due for delivery in 2016, but deemed “unaffordable” by the British since the F-35 fighter jets meant for it would cost $150 million each at 2009 prices).

Large aircraft carriers, though vital for blue water sea control operations, are very expensive to buy ($3-4 billion each, depending on the size), operate and maintain. A carrier needs to operate a minimum mix of 30 to 50 or more expensive aircrafts, (fighters, air early warning aircraft, helicopters). Each carrier, in addition, requires a protective screen of about six expensive destroyers or frigates and a replenishment tanker for refuelling.

Notwithstanding the high costs, it is a fact that the Indian Navy requires two aircraft carriers for blue water operations, which only carriers can perform. These would be the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) due to be commissioned in 2012, and the INS Vikrant (being built at Kochi shipyard), due for delivery after 2016. Each of these could carry a mix of about 30 aircraft and helicopters. Any proposal of buying a Third Aircraft Carrier would come At the Expense Of badly-needed platforms like submarines, frigates, destroyers etc. An aircraft carrier has a life of 50 years. However, given the estimated 20-year-life of the second-hand INS Vikramaditya, and the Fact that it would take us 20 Years to Get Government Sanction, Design and Build it, there is a need to Begin the Process for a Replacement Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Now.

Coming to other blue water operations, the first involves anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden, which are being carried out since August 2008 by destroyers and frigates costing about Rs 5,000 crores and Rs 3,000 crores each, respectively. A cheaper and more-cost effective option would be to use long-range offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), costing around Rs 300-500 crores each. A dozen such platforms are needed for anti-piracy patrols and also for protection of offshore oil rigs (three OPVs are already being built in Goa, and nine more need to be ordered).

The second aspect of blue water operations involves controlling or denying (during wartime) the “Choke Points” through which all ships must pass before entering or exiting the Indian Ocean region. This task is best performed by conventional submarines, SSNs, frigates/destroyers and Long-Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) aircraft .
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of August 2008 brought out the shortcomings of our ageing conventional submarine force and submarine rescue capabilities. Since the 30-year Indigenous Submarine Building Plan is running a few years Behind Schedule, the Government Needs to Consider Outright Import of Six Conventional Submarines with Air Independent Propulsion system, and Two Submarine Rescue Systems. Three Imported Destroyers, with BMD (ballastic missile defence) Capability and Three Imported Frigates are also needed, since Indian Defence Shipyards are OverBooked, and Force levels are Declining.

If media reports about a Russian-built Akula SSN being inducted into the Navy in 2010 are indeed true, than it’s welcome news, but more would be needed, and ideally ones that are indigenous.

Next, I come to the SSBN Arihant which was launched on July 26, 2009. Here too, for deterrence to work, More indigenous SSBNs would be needed, with Missile Ranges of about 5,000 km. To monitor shipping in specific areas of the Indian Ocean region, there is a need to import long-range (1,500 miles) high frequency “Sky Wave” Coastal Radars. Similar radars are in service in China, Australia and Russia. These are different from the Short-Range (40 miles) Coastal Radars being inducted by the Indian Coast Guard.

Lastly, I come to the issue of modern digital data links and network-centric warfare. Having completed Phase I of the Data Link (i.e. Real Time Situational Awareness), the Indian Navy with its dedicated satellite (launch in 2010), should move to Phase II, i.e. “Real Time Fusion of various Sensors and Shooters”, which would mean that data provided by one sensor platform would be accurate and timely enough for another platform to fire its weapons at the designated target.

To conclude, More Money is Needed. The government must increase the Defence Budget from its present 1.99 per cent to over three per cent of the gross domestic product. The Indian Navy needs to additionally prepare not only for the nuclear era, but also for BMD and maritime terrorism.
* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam


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