Defence

Interview: India Navy modernisation driven by focus on combat readiness: Admiral Karambir Singh (Part 1)

Photo: Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh.

India’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh tells Defence.Capital editor N. C. Bipindra in this Part 1 of an exclusive interaction earlier this month that the Indian Navy‘s modernisation focus is based on ‘Ordnance on Target’ as an important measure of combat effectiveness; and acquisition of mission-capable platforms that are fully combat capable.

Ques.      Indian Navy has been a pioneer in defence indigenisation and has a dedicated design bureau for both surface warships and submarines. What could be India’s strategy for achieving greater self-sufficiency in the ‘Move’ and ‘Fight’ capabilities, technologically and industrially, just as the success achieved in the ‘Float’ capabilities? What are the Indian Navy’s public and private industry facilitation and collaboration activities and policy interventions to achieve the targets?

Ans.      The Indian Navy has always taken keen interest in indigenisation and it has been one of our focus areas in the last five decades. With the thrust given to ‘Make in India’ and necessary policy support by the Government of India, the Indian Navy has leveraged new schemes, namely, Make-II, Technology Development Fund (TDF), and iDEX. Multiple channels are being used in both capital and revenue procurement to increase indigenous content and indigenise equipment and systems. 

The Indian Navy has been the first of the three services to conclude contracts under Make-II category and is proactively engaging with MSMEs and start-ups under various Government of India initiatives to increase the indigenous content onboard future platforms as well as to seek solutions for import substitution.

We have also been at the forefront in leveraging the TDF scheme and have proactively engaged with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for development of new technologies through private and public sector industries, particularly MSMEs to promote technological self-reliance. The technologies developed through TDF schemes would be inducted in future platforms as well as onboard existing ships in the form of ‘Technology Up Gradation/Insertion’.

The iDEX scheme, aimed at fostering an ecosystem for innovation and technology development for defence applications, has been effectively utilised by the Indian Navy for indigenous development of niche technology equipment/systems through MSMEs, start-ups, individual innovators, academic institutes, and R&D institutions. As on date, the Indian Navy has published eight challenges, out of which six challenges are at various stages of development by 15 start-ups. It is pertinent to state here that majority of the projects, which are underway with the above scheme are in the ‘Move’ and ‘Fight’ categories.

To provide focused impetus on induction of niche technology in weapons and sensors, in addition to indigenisation of equipment and components as import substitute, the Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation was launched by the India’s defence minister on Aug. 13, 2020.

Towards sensitising the industry about the indigenisation requirement, the Indian Navy has interacted with the industry through various outreach programmes. In last two years, we have scheduled 35 such interactions and exhibitions including one Government-to-Business meet organised to specifically discuss various ‘Make’ projects.

During the DEFEXPO 2020, Indian Navy has facilitated many Memorandum of Understandings/Transfers of Technology/Joint Ventures with industries to manufacture in India. Such steps will lead to proliferation of advanced technologies, particularly in ‘Move’ and ‘Fight’ categories.

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Ques.      Considering the fast-growing naval capabilities of India’s adversaries in the neighbourhood, and their commercial and military interests in the Indian Ocean Region increasing by the day, what will be the force levels and the capabilities that the Indian Navy shall be requiring to protect Indian interests in the IOR and beyond, in the next 30 years? How does, the Indian Navy recommend, India achieve the required capabilities and force levels?

Ans. The Navy is being modernised to create capabilities for accomplishing a range of missions across the entire spectrum of future threats and challenges. Towards this, present force levels are being augmented/modernised according to a laid down plan and being undertaken in an incremental manner progressively.

Modernisation of the navy is being driven by undiluted focus on combat readiness, with ‘Ordnance on Target’ as an important measure of combat effectiveness; and acquisition of mission-capable platforms that are fully combat capable.

As on date, 43 ships and submarines are under construction, out of which 95 per cent are being built in Indian shipyards. In addition, ‘Acceptance of Necessity’ has also been accorded for over 44 ships and submarines. Further, the Indian Navy is also procuring additional aircraft to augment surveillance capabilities.

Similarly, the Indian Navy is focusing on induction of long-range sensors and weapons with precision strike capability for its platforms. Our preferred mode of induction, as far as feasible, is through the indigenous route. Further, development of technical and support infrastructure for maintenance of these new inductions is also being progressed.

Indian Navy’s commitment to ‘Self Reliance in Defence Production’ is evident from the fact that all 24 ships and submarines commissioned into the navy over the last six years have been built in India. Further, of the 43 ships and submarines, currently under construction, 41 are being built at Indian shipyards. These include the Aircraft Carrier Vikrant, P-15B Class Destroyers, P-17A class stealth Frigates and Scorpene class submarines.

Amongst these projects, Vikrant is at an advanced stage of construction and will commence sea trials in early 2021. Visakhapatnam, the first of the P-15B destroyers is undergoing trials and is scheduled to be commissioned next year. We also commissioned the indigenously built Landing Craft LCU L57 in May this year, and ASW Corvette Kavaratti in October. ‘Himgiri’, the second of the seven ships of P17A frigates was launched in Dec. 2020 at Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers at Kolkata.

Modernisation of the submarine arm is also underway. The delivery of the third Scorpene (P75) class boat, Karanj, is expected by the end of Dec. 2020, the fourth boat, Vela, is undergoing sea trials and fifth boat Vagir was launched recently.

As regards aviation, we inducted three Advanced Light Helicopter MkIII, four Chetak, eight Dornier and one P-8I aircraft this year. Contracts for procurement of six P-8Is, six Kamov 31 helicopters and upgrade of six Heron RPAs are under process and likely to be concluded in 2021. We also signed the Letter of Acceptance for 24 MRH helicopter from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales route this year, with deliveries starting next year.

Phase-IIA of Project Seabird at Karwar is progressing on track. Construction of eight operational and two refit piers, creation of a full-fledged Naval Dockyard, upgrading of the hospital at Karwar and construction of a Naval Air Station are planned during this Phase.

The Indian Navy has been at the forefront of indigenisation over the past seven decades. Indigenisation of major equipment and systems is being progressed through multiple avenues available in the updated Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020. The Indian Navy also established the Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation (NIIO) to facilitate closer interaction with industry and provide a fillip to innovation.

The Indian Navy has taken measures towards enhancing opportunities for women officers in the Navy. In this regard, maiden induction of observers into the helicopter stream, appointment to Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) squadron, and induction into Provost specialisation are some of the milestones achieved. Four women officers have also been appointed on ships, and two women officers have been appointed to overseas billets at Maldives and Moscow.

Going forward, the Indian Navy is seeking to harness niche technologies towards effective use of resources. Networking, unmanned solutions, autonomous vehicles, and new age weapons and sensors would be part of our capability in the near future.

We have also embarked on a focused drive to integrate Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics into our scheme of things.  Integration of these systems from different OEM, with the shipboard equipment would be challenging and therefore, capability to integrate varied technologies and systems is also being paid undivided attention.

(To be concluded in Part 2)

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