Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar and India’s indigenous carrier INS VIKRANT
Q Maritime security in India has a multi-layered architecture. Are so many layers a disadvantage?
Maritime security, unlike land security, has many complexities. It is not only national, but has a trans-national facet to it. This is against the backdrop of the fact that the seas are considered global commons for common good and welfare.
The technical expertise gained during the construction of INS Vikrant is precious and should be capitalised upon. Therefore, India’s maritime security architecture being multi-layered is an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
Every agency has a specific charter. This enables it to develop competencies and capabilities factoring its charter. Pooling of these competencies and capabilities has strengthened maritime security.
Q Historically, naval power has been a pre-requisite to becoming a world power. Do you think that has changed?
A The primary nature of war has been constant through millennia, and is unlikely to change. Only the character of war has changed, as stated by [Prussian general Carl von] Clausewitz. Yes, naval power has always been a pre-requisite.
Even when we look at India, invaders who came through land were either driven back or they amalgamated into our national fabric. However, those who came through the seas colonised us and ruled over us for more than two centuries. Further, more than 90 per cent of India’s trade is through the seas. This trade is what keeps our economy going. A strong and stable economy is a pre-requisite for ensuring prosperity for all Indians. And it is the Navy that plays a pivotal role, in consonance with other maritime security agencies, in not only safeguarding, but also promoting our national maritime interests.
Q Is the era of aircraft carriers over? Besides force depiction, what other purpose does it serve? China intends to match the US in carrier strength. What numbers are we looking at?
A The Carrier Battle Group (CBG), of which the aircraft carrier is the central entity, is a means of projecting maritime power at sea and from the sea. It is a self-contained and composite force capable of undertaking an entire range of tasks that no other platform/shore-based aircraft can undertake.
As a blue-water force, considering the vast area of operations, operational philosophy centred on sea control and growing threat in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the Navy has a requirement of three operational aircraft carriers at any time. While the requirement for a third carrier is being actively considered by the government, the Navy is already “under way” in bringing the nascent imperatives to the drawing board.
Q Although there has been huge indigenous effort in building INS Vikrant, China’s aircraft carriers are much bigger in scale and power. How do our naval resources stack up?
A INS Vikrant stands testimony to our nation’s efforts towards complete indigenisation of our armed forces. With this, India has become part of the elite group of nations possessing the niche capability to indigenously design and build an aircraft carrier. The technical expertise gained during the construction of INS Vikrant is precious and should be capitalised upon to accrue savings in terms of cost and time.
The growth of China’s navy in the recent past has been closely watched and adequate preparations are on the anvil. To counter emerging challenges in the maritime domain, it is important to achieve a balanced ‘force mix’ to undertake roles, missions and objectives in our primary and secondary areas of interest, and also facilitate out-of-area operations.
Q To what extent is India’s Africa policy a response to China’s String of Pearls theory?
A India’s Africa outreach policy is not targeted against any country, but is a part of Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) as envisioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Navy has been deploying ships in the Indian Ocean Region and Africa to ensure regional security and stability.
The Navy has also been collaborating with other navies, including multinational forces like CMF (Combined Maritime Forces) to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Q As for the Indian Navy’s approach in Africa, naval cooperation has traditionally been consistent, with regular port visits and transfer of hardware and logistical support.
A The commitment of our country and our Navy can be ascertained from the fact that even during Covid-19, the Indian Navy was the first responder in providing medical aid, including vaccinations, to our friends in Africa.
Q Are India’s recent naval acquisitions enough to help it become the principal naval power in the Indian Ocean?
A The Navy is evolving continuously to meet emerging challenges to our maritime interests. The Navy’s modernisation programme is centred on atmanirbharta, which defines India’s growth story. Threats, missions and affordability have remained dominant factors in the force structure planning of the service. The expansion plan includes induction of aircraft carriers, state-of-the-art next generation warships, nuclear-powered and conventional submarines, revitalisation of aviation and sub-surface assets, augmentation of unmanned solutions to enhance combat capabilities, and induction of niche technology and equipment to address emergent and future threats. Further, development of technical and support infrastructure for maintenance of these new inductions is also being progressed.
In consonance with the GoI initiative of ‘Make in India’, 43 of 45 ships and submarines currently on order are being constructed in Indian public and private shipyards. Further, AoN (acceptance of necessity) has been accorded to the acquisition of 49 ships and six submarines, all to be constructed indigenously in Indian shipyards.
In keeping with the Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, all new Indian Navy ships being constructed in India are being fitted with indigenous weapons and sensors. Also, all foreign-origin weapons, sensors and propulsion systems of older platforms are being progressively replaced with indigenous systems during the mid-life upgradation refits. The spares of all foreign-origin equipment are also being progressively indigenised.
To reduce arms dependency and promote indigenous manufacturing of defence equipment, a comprehensively revamped ‘Make and Innovation’ procedure has been introduced in DAP-20 (Defence Acquisition Procedure) to facilitate indigenous design and development of defence equipment by private participation both with government and industry funding.