A hardcore Punjabi who could think only of Army and Air Force as a child, I had my first real exposure to a naval ship in 1978 when I embarked INS Himgiri, then a new Leander class frigate, for a month. I had the freedom to move anywhere on the ship, and those four weeks opened my mind to the awe of riding the ocean waves. Capt. Gairola was most kind to facilitate my experience, and my only request for a daily sortie on the ship’s HAL Chetak helicopter was granted. Unless we were anchored.
In contemporary terms, the Indian Navy was doing well those days. It had an aircraft carrier, Chetak and Sea King helicopters, combat aircraft, several ships and some Soviet-supplied submarines.
Somewhere along the lines, with the advent of VP Singh as prime minister even though for a short period, the modernisation programmes of the Indian armed forces sputtered and stalled. The Navy was no exception. He had blocked all modernisation programmes and made it difficult procedurally for the Bureaucracy and Services to acquire new systems.
Officers are hesitant to accord approvals even now as it is easy to float lies and put allegations. Things have changed slowly though.
More than two decades ago, an ambitious plan for the Indian Navy to have 30 modern boats was drawn. The Navy still has a dozen old Soviet and German conventional diesel electric submarines, and only in the recent years, it has inducted 3 of the 6 Scorpene class modern submarines. The remaining three won’t be very long in induction though.
But the big news now is the sanction – Acceptance of Necessity or AON – granted for the acquisition of 6 more submarines equipped with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) that would enable a boat to stay underwater for up to 4 weeks. It’s a big $6 billion (over Rs 40,000 Crore) project, and its highlight is that two Indian defence companies, MDL and L&T have been given the tender with a list of five selected foreign OEMs to source the technologies from.
It’s also about the intensification of the Make in India Strategic Partnership (SP) programme so that the Indian companies, including MSMEs, can gain and absorb sophisticated technologies.
Another good news is about the delivery of first 2 of the 24 MH-60R Seahawk multirole shipboard helicopters from Lockheed Martin. The Navy has a serious problem in its helicopter capability, and all its acquisition plans are running late.
The delays in the acquisition programme have led to a cumulative backlog, and any Government will have to priorities various acquisition programmes. Money is an issue.
Nonetheless, even though Naval projects are slow to mature, there’s some good news around: Besides the Scorpenes and Helicopters, the Navy’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, IAC 1, is ready for sea trials, about 40 ships are under construction in Indian shipyards, and the acquisition of Israeli Heron and US General Atomics Sea Guardian drones is progressing at a reasonable pace.
More Boeing P-8I aircraft, the most modern piece of equipment in terms of technology with any of the Indian forces, are also coming.
I’ve written this before, and I repeat: We always need an EDGE in the combat capability of our forces. Our Officers and Personnel are The Best anywhere, and we need to give them the matching Edge in Technologies.
— Gulshan Rai Luthra