Interview: Third aircraft carrier critical security imperative, economically prudent: Admiral Karambir Singh (Part-2)

File Photo: A MiG-29K combat jet on board INS Vikramaditya, India’s lone operational aircraft carrier.

India’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh tells Defence.Capital editor N. C. Bipindra in this Part-2 of an exclusive interaction earlier this month that India’s national interests, including security interests, are intrinsically linked to the seas and extend across the vast seascape of the Indo-Pacific.

Q.      The Indian Navy was the first to kick off the Strategic Partnership programme with the plans for the Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) and the Naval Multi-Role Helicopters (NMRH). What progress has been made to get the procurement to fructify on time? How critical are these two requirements for the Indian Navy’s operational readiness?

Admiral Karambir Singh

A.  The case for procurement of NUH as a replacement of Chetak helicopters has been initiated under Strategic Partnership model for which Acceptance of Necessity was accorded by the Defence Acquisition Council in Aug. 2018. The case is presently awaiting second stage DAC approval for shortlisting of Original Equipment Manufacturers and Strategic Partners. Post approval of DAC, Request for Proposal will be issued to shortlisted Indian private firms. This capability is operationally critical as the drawdown of Chetak helicopters has already commenced. The operational void in the Multi Role Helicopter segment has been partially bridged with the procurement of 24 MH-60R helicopters.

Q.      The submarine arm of the Indian Navy is adding strength with the commissioning of the Kalvari-class. What are the Navy’s plans and efforts to get P75I programme rolling, with the responses from both Indian and foreign vendors have been received for the Expressions of Interest issued for the project? Is there a tweak in the 30-year submarine plan for 24 vessels, considering the delays in both P75 and P75I projects?

A.      The shortlisting of Indian Strategic Partners and Foreign OEMs have been approved by the DAC. The RFP for Project 75(I) is being processed for final approval of the Ministry of Defence and will be issued post requisite approvals by Jan. 2021. The 30-year submarine building plan has served as the guiding document for India achieving self-reliance in design and construction of submarines and is being pursued.


Q.      Why is it very much critical for the Indian Navy to have a third carrier battle group in place and how does it help the nation when such a project for a second indigenous aircraft carrier to be built in India will mean a huge cost to the exchequer?

A. India’s national interests, including security interests, are intrinsically linked to the seas and extend across the vast seascape of the Indo-Pacific. In this regard, India’s expanding economy, trade interests, global diaspora, energy security and coastal populace are all closely interwoven.

Our western sea-lanes are crucial for oil imports, and the bulk of our trade flows across the seas. India’s maritime zones also have immense potential for blue economy. However, inimical actors, both state and non-state, pose a threat to our territorial integrity, economic development, and security imperatives, both at and from the sea.

Additionally, with increasing deployment of naval forces in the region, it is imperative that the Indian Navy create suitable capabilities to assure India’s maritime security. This can only be achieved and our interests in near and distant areas preserved, by a capable, credible, and potent naval force. This entails sea power that is not only capable but also persistent.

Projecting power and influencing an area of interest during peacetime over sustained periods ensures that interests are safeguarded and assures dividends in the event of a conflict.

A carrier is a mobile airfield, with integral and on-call air power, which can deploy up to 650 kilometres in a day, influence an area of 1.5 million to 2 million sqkm, and is a powerful symbol of the nation’s capability and intent, serving as a reassurance to our citizens and a deterrent for inimical forces.

The carrier’s inherent combat potential, mission flexibility, mobility, resilience, and reach acts as a deterrent against maritime misadventures by our adversaries (both state and non-state) and provides a security umbrella to Indian interests in the maritime domain, epitomising firm national will and the capability to establish a strong envelope of security.

Presence of an Indian carrier is a stabilising factor reassuring friendly littorals of our commitment to enhancing the collective regional security quotient.

It projects our ability and commitment to be the ‘Preferred Security Partner’ for friendly maritime nations. A Carrier Battle Group can influence a sizeable swath of sea in a noticeably short span of time, thereby reinforcing presence and ensuring security in these zones. Aircraft carriers also provide the country with a visible symbol of strength to project India’s intent, to both partners and competitors alike.

India’s geography divides our coastline into two distinct seaboards with distinct characteristics and threats. To provide suitable protection to our interests, given present day security imperatives, we require presence of a carrier on both seaboards. Thus, a minimum of three carriers are considered critical to maintain two mission-ready carriers, considering training and maintenance requirements.

As regards cost, building carriers indigenously is not only a sound strategic decision, it also showcases and supports development of technological capability and shipbuilding prowess of the nation, while being significantly beneficial from the economic viewpoint.

Though more expensive than a destroyer or a frigate, considering the multitude of simultaneous missions that a carrier is capable of, it is the most military and economically effective option for power projection that can be acquired for a given budget.

Most powerful navies are centred on domestically built CBGs. In this regard, it bears note that investment in building an aircraft carrier is ‘ploughed back’ into the economy.

The associated employment generated by shipyards and numerous ancillary industries, also provides large scale employment opportunities. In empirical terms, every rupee spent of on indigenous shipbuilding, particularly in large projects like an aircraft carrier, has a 1.8 times multiplier effect downstream and every person employed at the shipyard generates jobs for six persons in the supporting ancillary industries.

Further, shipbuilding tends to catalyse the formation of an industrial and manufacturing ecosystem, which would find utility in diverse sectors, thereby aid in kindling a virtuous economic cycle.

The Navy is certain that the third aircraft carrier is not only a critical security imperative, but also economically prudent.


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