An IDC Report 


New Delhi, 15 December 2003

indian navy in the 21st century

By Cmde (Retd.) Ranjit B. Rai

(Courtesy: Naval forces)

Sea Power in the broad sense includes not only the military strength afloat that rules the sea or any part of it by force of arms, but also peaceful commerce and shipping, from which alone a military fleet naturally and healthfully springs, and on which it securely  rests.

Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan 1890

The present day Indian Navy can trace its pedigree line from two great Navies, the Royal Navy, and in more recent years, from the Soviet Navy. It has inculcated the best from both these fighting services. The origins of the Indian Navy can be traced to a maritime force established by the East India Company in the seventeenth century. This force had a variety of names – the Bombay Marine and the Indian Marine, till in 1934, its identity as the Royal Indian Navy was established. In the early years, the Indians served primarily in the lower-level positions. Following the Independence of India in 1947, the Royal Indian Navy inducted Indians into the officer cadre, to become the Indian Navy in 1952. However, it continued to be headed by British Admirals till 1958. During this period, the threats to India were seen by the national leadership to be more land-based, and this small service was sadly neglected. India’s ‘Cinderella Service’ was spurned by the West, but in the legendary, late Admiral Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov of the Russian Navy, the Indian Navy found a true friend and an ardent admirer, especially after the missile attacks off Karachi during the 1971 war. India turned to Russia who fulfilled much of its military hardware requirements against what came to be known as the rupee rouble easy credit trade. However budgetary constraints could not support the acquisition plans of the Navy for long as India’s debt rose sharply.

The mid 80s witnessed a sea change, with the Indian Navy undertaking bold and exciting modernization programs, that culminated with the induction of 1500 HDW and Kilo class submarines, a nuclear Charlie class missile firing boat INS Chakra on lease for four years, and the acquisition of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat (Hermes) and IL 38 and TU 142 MR aircraft. It also ambitiously embarked on building three large indigenously designed 6700 ton Delhi Class KH 35 Uran missile-firing destroyers with inputs from the Severnoye Design Bureau. The break up of the former Soviet Union in 1991 led to disruptions, as supplies and spares from Russia were not easily available. The Navy weathered the storm with innovations and cannibalization, and the build up is once again on track, this time against dollar payments. With the recent acquisition of the most modern missiles firing Krivack Class frigates INS Talwar and Trishul the Indian Navy is seen in the light of a powerful and potent professional force in this region. The ships are fitted with 16 vertical launched Klub 3M-54 E SSMs, Shtil and Kashtan Air Defence systems and the Fregat M2 EM, Garpun Bal, Cots and Nucleus radars. The ships can operate the KA-31 AEW and KA-28 ASW helicopters supported by Indian built hull mounted sonars the HUMSA, and SSN 137( Nagan) towed array sonar and RBU 6000 ASW rockets and multi purpose DTA 53 torpedo launchers. INS Tabar is to follow shortly and the Russians have offered a follow on programme.

India’s trade in the world’s pecking order is only 1% of the whole, but it is estimated that 60% of the world’s sea borne trade and energy resources transits through the Indian Ocean. The third millennium is witnessing the rapid resurgence of economies in the East, including those in both China and India. Post 9/11, there is a fear of instability born of terrorism and piracy at sea, which could disrupt world trade and transportation of energy resources that are carried via the sea lines of communications (SLOCs) and choke points, both in and around the Indian Ocean. These include the Straits of Hormuz in the Gulf, Bab El Mandeb off Aden and Malacca Straits off the Singapore, Indonesian and Malaysian waters.

Geographically India juts into the Indian Ocean and the three functions of its Navy –– to be a war fighting force, an effective constabulary policeman in the area as well as contribute to benign and coercive diplomacy in the littoral, has gained relevance and strategic importance. In as early as March 2001, Admiral Dennis Blair, the then Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Command, accepted that the Indian Navy’s role was closely intertwined with preserving the sea lines of communication in the Indian ocean for the future economic security of the world. He sought to take measures for the Indian Navy and the United States Navy to harmonize engagement objectives, which could also enhance India’s regional objectives with US Cooperation. Indian Naval planners took the cue and planned for a larger Navy. India’s leadership has finally also appreciated that India’s long coast line of 7500 km, the safety of the 1000 islands dotted around, and the off shore energy assets have to be defended under the changed parameters of maritime security post 9/11. There is an acceptance that India’s Navy needs to become a reckonable force in the future.

India has also been accepted as a nuclear power. Hence, the Navy has scripted ambitions to possess a potent sea based second-strike capability and that program is being generously funded to induct nuclear propelled submarines. The Indian Navy of the future has therefore shifted focus from a Pakistan centric force, to become a blue water sea control capable maritime force. This was inevitable in the newly changed geo political and globalised scenario, with the cold war a relic of the past. The India US strategic relations have moved forward, from suspicion, to engagement and cooperation. However, Russia remains the main supplier of both ships and naval aviation hardware to the Indian Navy and will, in the foreseeable future, continue to maintain a prime position. This offers the Indian Navy the best of both worlds and is discussed in this article, along with a blue print of its future and the challenges that it faces.

The Present and the Future Indian Navy

  • Today, the Indian Naval strength stands at 140 Ships comprising one Aircraft Carrier INS Viraat ex Hermes , three 6700 ton Delhi and five 3950 ton (Kashins) Rajput Class DDGs and 26 front line frigates and corvettes with over 100 missile launchers. The under water strength is 16 Submarines ( 4 HDW 1500 and 10 Kilos including at least  three capable of under water Novator Klub missile launches and 150 Aircraft and Helicopters (24 Sea Harriers, 5 IL 38, 8 TU 142 , 27 Dornier 228s , 27 Seakings, 11 Kamovs). The Coast Guard which has a “hook on policy in war” has 55 ships, 24 Dornier-- 228 aircraft and 18 helicopters, including 2 Indian designed 5 ton Dhruv ALH helicopters manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

  • The proposed 15 Year Ship Building Program envisages a target of 185 Ships for the Indian Navy by 2017. Maritime security, anti-terrorism and EEZ security in Indian Ocean has renewed support for the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard from many quarters, including USA and Japan. The Coast Guard also plans to induct  4 more Dorniers, ATR 42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft on offer  by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd which has license agreements for supply , Advanced OPVs, Hovercraft and large Oil Pollution Control vessels. Interestingly, selected Indian Coast Guard OPVs are fitted out with the 76 mm Oto Melara gun produced under license by Government owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd which supplies the guns to the Indian Navy also.

  • The Naval budget for the financial year 2003 is $ 2.6 billion. It is 18% of the defence budget and is set to increase annually by 3%. China’s naval budget of 39% of the Defence budget is often quoted in India, as China is viewed as India’s competitor in the region, and a possible unstated threat.

  • The target of 185 ships by 2017 is planned to be achieved by maintaining the ratio of revenue to capital expenditure at 40 / 60%. Aircraft carrier Gorshkov with a complement of 18 MiG 29Ks and 8 Ka 31/28 helicopters is awaiting clearance and is expected to join the fleet by 2005. A 37,000 ton STOBAR Air Defence Ship designed by the Indian Naval Design Directorate with LM 2500 gas turbines, has been ordered and funds have been advanced to the Cochin Shipyard and it is hoped, will join the fleet in 2010.

  • In June 2003 the Indian Navy has commissioned 2 ships of project 1135.6 (INS Talwar and Trishul), 1 Missile Corvette (INS Karmukh) and one Ramta fast attack craft imported from Israel. The Navy plans to add 4 to 5 ships annually by a twin approach of indigenous building and acquisition. A line of new Type 17 Frigates and Type 15A improved Delhi class are under construction and ASW Corvettes of approximately 2400 tons each are in final stages of order to the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) at Calcutta. The 4450-ton INS Beas and Betwa improved Leander frigates with steam propulsion equipped with 16 KH 35 Urans and the Rafael/IAI Barak missiles are also in the final stages of delivery at GRSE. They will be commissioned by 2004.

  • There are plans to upgrade (2 – 3 large ships) every year. Brahmos, India’s missile of the future is being developed and Indian sonars, ESM and CIC systems are being improved.

  • The 30 year two Line Submarine Building Programme has been accepted. Six Type 75 (Scorpene) submarines will be built in India at Mazagon Docks and the deal is awaiting final signature. Another line, possibly the Amur class will follow.

  • By 2017, if India’s economy continues doing well and can support the build up, the Indian Navy could possibly possess a three Carrier Battle group Fleet with 20 MR Aircraft and 50 potent helicopters and 185 ships and submarines.

  • 2 Deep Submerged Rescue Vessels ( DRSVs) and additional FACs are under acquisition. Other import options for ships and MR aircraft are under consideration.

  • Nuclear Submarines, including India’s own ATV is being built at the Ship Building Facility at Vishakapatnam and Air Cushion Vehicles from abroad will be inducted.

  • The Indian Naval Hydrographic arm is capable of, and has assisted Oman and Indonesia in charting their waters. The present survey fleet has 8 ships and the Government has offered funding for 6 ships to the Navy, to steer the program. The Navy is on the look out for an economical catamaran design , and plans to fit the platform with the latest surveying equipment.

The Para Military Border Security Force (BSF) Water Wing is also expanding. It will have a large aviation wing of 6 MI 17 and Dhruv helicopters, Embraer 135 Legacy planes and flat bottomed platforms for deployment along the  territorial borders. 12 Large craft with imported Australian speed boats on board are on order at Mazagon Docks Ltd. Four of these have already been delivered and the induction of manpower to man and operate these is the challenge that faces the BSF.

The Navy’s 15-Year Plan

Navies are not built overnight, but require many years of sustained planning. Great navies also require, both to inculcate and also preserve traditions, as well as acquire the latest technology, with strong support from within the country and its government. The Information Technology boom in India could not have come at a more opportune time for the Navy to induct computer systems off the shelf for its C4I capabilities, which is denied by Western countries. The top brass of the Navy have been able to convince the government that a long term plan is essential for the Navy to raise its strength from the present 140 to 185, in what is accepted as the 15 year plan and a 30 year two line submarine building programme. The results are already in evidence, with India’s four government-owned shipyards having received firm contracts for long-term projects and backed by ample funds. The challenge now lies in the execution and construction of ships within costs and time bound parameters, as even today, warships bought from Russia and fast attack craft from Israel, are cheaper and faster to induct.

The Navy has accordingly articulated a “build and also buy,” policy to ensure progressive increase in the strength of its fleet, and to cater for de commissioning. The government has assured adequate funding and the Navy’s share of the Defence budget has already increased by 3% to 18% of the $14 billion amounting to $2.6 billion for financial year 2003-04. Of this $1.1 billion is provided under the head revenue for the running of the Navy, the pay and allowances of its personnel (57,000 uniformed and 60,000 civilian) and $1.5 billion capital expenditure for purchases, inductions and expansion of shore facilities.

The Pride and Hope of the Navy –– The Type-17 and DELHI Repeats

A revolutionary in house Type 17 design (Canadian assisted for stealth features) of a 4400 tons frigate with CODOG propulsion provided by 2 General Electric LM 2500 gas turbines, supplied under license by Hindustan Aircraft Ltd, and a Pielstick diesel, with Wartsila power generators and seals was conceived by the Indian Navy and Mazagon Docks design teams. The first three are on order at Mazagon Docks, and the hull of the first, INS Shivalik, has been launched soon and the keel for the second, has been laid. The weapon systems will be both indigenous and imported (having learnt from the experience of the Krivacks and others), and could include the Barak MK 1 and the Brahmos missile. This project is predicted to be path breaking like the earlier Leander project was, and will provide the Indian Navy with a thin grey line of missile frigates in the coming years.

The Indian DRDO and the NPO Mach of Russia have endorsed a business collaboration to co-produce the 290 km multi role cruise missile Brahmos in India. All the three services have an interest in this Yakhont based missile. Dr A Sivathanu Pillai a DRDO scientist has been appointed CEO and MD of the Brahmos Aerospace and a large building to house the establishment is coming up in the outskirts of Delhi. Hopes are also pinned on this missile to capture some of the export market in the region. The missile is reported to have inputs for homing and inertial navigation gained from  the Indian experience of the Prithvi and Agni missiles. Five successful trial firings including one from INS Rajput have taken place and over 45 Russian scientists witnessed the latest one in November 2005 at the Chandipur test range. As the private sector defence company Larsen and Tubro had successfully engineered the stabilization launch of the Dhanush sea-based version of Prithvi from an OPV, great hopes rest on this missile for deployment on ships.

The order for three improved 15A 6700 ton Delhi class frigates has also been placed on Mazagon Docks and the keel for the first has been laid. This class of the three ships in service have proved themselves and have shown the Flag all around the world including the USA and Japan. Recently in October 2003 INS Delhi was berthed  at LIMA 03 at Lamgkawi with a Barak Air Defence system strapped on her, and this evinced keen interest from the 17 Navies gathered for the Review by out going Prime Minster Mahathir Mohammed. Three large 5700 ton Landing Ship Tank (LST) with helicopter decks capable of operating India’s Dhruv ALH have been ordered at the GRSE yard at Calcutta. The first is planned to be delivered in 2005. There are other orders for fast attack craft on GRSE and with Tribon CAD CAM systems in place in all Defence shipyards, there is healthy exchange of designs and information which could see the construction time reduced. But improving productivity in government owned yards is their great challenge. All shipyards are headed by former Naval Admirals so the level of commitment  is high.

India’s Submarine Program. Derailed But Due To Restart 

The inventory of the submarine arm of the Indian Navy was at its peak in 1991  with 20 submarines including a nuclear boat. The operational effectiveness of the submarine arm owes its glory to the dedication of its men who work under hardship conditions and enough cannot be said in its praise. The arm was born in the late 60s with the operation of 8 Foxtrot class boats. It then went on to swiftly induct the silent double decked Kilos and the Charlie class INS Chakra in 1987, imbibing the tenets of nuclear propulsion, which also carried out under water missile launches before being returned in 1991. But what is remarkable is that Mazagon Docks and the Indian Navy successfully built two, top of the line HDW-1500 class submarines with AEG SUT MOD 1 torpedoes, Singer Librascope weapon controls and Kollmorgen periscopes at Mumbai at the same time. Regrettably due to a scandal, India’s HDW program was halted at Mazagon Docks. INS Sindhushastra, the last of the Kilo class, joined the Fleet in 2000, and in its very first exercise showed how effective the under water launched Klub missile was. It is reported that three more Kilos  have been converted in their refits at the Admiralty Shipyard in Russia. The Hindustan Shipyard Ltd at Vishakapatnam has also signed an agreement with the Russian counterparts to execute EKM 877 Kilo class refits at its yard.

For the future, the government has accepted two lines of submarine building in India, with  transfer of technology to be included in the contracts. The Navy has designed its own Type 75 boat based on an audited design of the HDW/Scorpene, with options for the yet-to-prove MESA system, whilst the fuel cell technology remains an option. The price negotiations for six conventional boats to be built at Mazagon Docks at a cost of over $1.4 billion are reported to be completed with the newly formed DCN and Thales combine, Armaris. The final go-ahead is eagerly awaited. This will be a new challenge as the old workers in MDL have left and the yard is being activated de novo. The Amur 1650 has also been doing the rounds as the second line. The private contractor Larsen and Tubro, which has facilities to build reactor hulls at Hazira North of Mumbai, (and is reported to be building a module for the ATV, India’s own nuclear boat), has indicated its interest in this project, with Russian collaboration. Government has recently permitted 26% Foreign Investment in the Defence sector by  private companies. Post the Kursk calamity the Government has  accepted that rescue facilities are essential for that unlikely submarine accident. It has sanctioned the induction of two Deep Submerged Rescue Vessels (DSRV) and the Navy has been looking into the LR5 from the UK, as well as a Canadian design, amongst others. The Indian Navy has always experimented with innovation and is seeking to have additional facilities in the proposed self propelled DSRV for Special Forces for rescue operations.

Technology Transfers to the Indian Navy –– A Fine Balance

The Indian Navy has always been a “ tech hungry Navy” and in the 1970’s the task of integration of Soviet with western and indigenous systems on Godavari class led to the formation of WESEE – Weapon & Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment in New Delhi – to develop bus bars and complex interfaces to integrate systems of different origins indigenously. The Navy did not depend entirely on the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The Navy’s best brains were appointed to  WESEE which subsequently flourished in Corvettes and other follow on programmes and continues to be the hub of electronics integration today. It has  produced the “EMCCA” CAIO System for the Brahmaputra class frigates and integrated transfer of technology from Italy from Electronica for EW, and other countries for sonars. The new class of frigates for the Indian Navy will have systems with greater automation eg ‘Buria’ for main propulsion machinery control, ‘Angara’ for generation controls, ‘Onega’ for ship system controls, ‘Korracks’ for steering gear controls, and ‘Dolomite’ for Stabiliser Systems amongst others. CAE Marine Systems of Canada has been given the contract for Integrated Platform Management of Systems (IPMS) for the Type-17 frigates and LST(L) under construction. The Indian collaborations with GE for LM 2500,Cummins and Pielstick for diesels, Brown Brothers for steering gears and stabilizers and Vosper Thornycraft and Kelvin Hughes and BARCO for displays has also paid rich dividends.

With the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the sanctions placed by USA after the May 1998 nuclear blasts, the Navy found itself in a precarious situation. The aviation wing suffered when the Sea King and Sea Harrier spares were denied to them, whilst the submarines could not get support for their periscopes and systems. This is now in the past as the USA, Israel and European suppliers are no longer reluctant to offer the latest technology. With Russia the formation of the JISWOG, a half yearly/quarterly meeting forum of specialists irons out all issues at one platform, and only those issues not resolved are raised to ministerial level.

At present, Russia and Israel are the main providers of technology to the Indian Navy and the Israel connection has elevated  the Navy to a higher plane. Israel has supplied the Barak Air Defence System, which the Navy has been able to transfer between ships. Reports indicate that seven Barak systems have been supplied, and more are in the pipeline. The Navy had to take this decision when the home- grown DRDO Trishul system failed for the Bramhaputra class and INS Viraat. Israel has also supplied the Searcher II and Heron UAVs with ground stations and multiple mission optical, infrared and radar sensors and the Indian Navy had planned to operate these from Porbunder, Cochin and Port Blair to augment their surveillance and reconnaissance abilities. Seven ESM systems from Israel at a cost of  $110 million have been recently sanctioned to augment the home built Ajanta line of EW systems. More recently, the US India High Technology group meetings led by the US Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, with India’s National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, is likely to lead to the opening of gates for India to receive amongst other items, defence technology as well. The agreement has been dubbed as the trinity glide path agreement for defence, trade and technology. Colin Powell has said. “The glide path was a way to bring closure to the debate” (of dual technology denials.)

The DRDO’s sonar research establishment set up in the proximity of IN’s ASW school at Cochin in the 60s, the Naval Physical Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) has successfully pioneered the HUMSA hull mounted, Nigam towed and HUMVAD VDS line of sonars. These are now manufactured by Bharat Electronics Ltd at Bangalore and fitted with BARCO consoles in all front line ships and towed arrays are being experimented. Credit for pioneering the projects and sustaining them goes to retired naval officer Arun Raj now at Stanford in USA and  Dr V K Aatre a sonar specialist trained in Canada, who now head’s India’s DRDO. The Navy is now working on low frequency dipping sonars for the ALH.

Indian Naval Aviation of the Future
The acquisition of an aircraft-carrier capable of launching CTOL (Conventional Take-Off and Landing) or STO-BAR (Short Take-Off-Barrier Arrested Recovery) aircraft gained momentum in the mid 90s after the Pakistani Navy received the American P-3C Orion capable of firing Harpoon AShMs (Anti-Ship Missiles) from stand-off ranges. The Indian Navy felt insecure, vulnerable. The endurance of P-3Cs meant attack on Indian surface fleets from unexpected quarters. It became necessary for the Indian Navy to establish local air-superiority over stretches of seas without the help of land based air cover. The STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) Sea Harrier fighters lacked the range and endurance for the projected  mission.
The Indian Navy has settled for the decommissioned Russian Kiev class aircraft carrying cruiser “Admiral Gorshkov” that is to be reconfigured as an aircraft-carrier with a 14 degree ski jump. It is planned to embark customized MiG-29K fighters and ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) Kamov 28s and 31 AEW (Airborne Early Warning) helicopters. "Admiral Gorshkov" along with the MiG-29K fighters and helicopters will provide the vital integrated air support, both in terms of Fleet area air defence and "on-spot" ASW screening. The MiG-29Ks assisted by Kamov-31s will be able intercept enemy strike and MR/ASW  platforms like P-3Cs at long ranges, thus preventing them from closing in and firing  accurate anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon and Exocet. This necessity becomes more acute if the enemy airborne platforms are guided to their targets by an AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) aircraft. In such situations land based air cover may be too late to react. The Indian Air Force has contracted for three Uzbeck IL 76s to be integrated with the Israeli IAI Phalcon AWACS system which could arrive in India in 2005 giving India a leap forward in air space control.

MiG-29Ks will also deny the operation of enemy MR/ASW aircraft in the vicinity of India’s vital submarine operations, while assisting Indian MR/ASW platforms in their operational role by establishing local air superiority. Another vital role of India’s CVBG (aircraft-carrier battle group) will be deployment of air defence fighters in the Arabian sea to destroy enemy airborne strike platforms in defence of India’s vital nuclear and oil installations on the West coast. This is a very important requirement as enemy strike formations may deliberately try to avoid the IAF (Indian Air Force) ADGES (Air Defence Ground Environment System).
The MiG-29K is well suited to this task, as it was derived from fly-by-wire MiG-29M, with a more advanced Zhuk (Beetle) PH radar capable of conducting four simultaneous attacks with BVR (Beyond Visual Range) R-77RVV-AE (AA-12 Adder) AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles). Special mention needs to be made of the Naval Tejas light combat aircraft ( LCA) that is being projected to operate from ADS. It could represent the cutting-edge technology if it enters service.

Marine Commandos and Shore Facilities

In 1987 an elite Indian Marine Commando Force called MARCOS came into being. This 1500 strong force highly trained toughies are capable of diving and assault operations from the sea and air, have proved their mettle in the Sri Lanka OP Pawan India’s foray in to Sri Lanka in 1987 and in the lakes of terrorist infected Kashmir. Many officers and men have been trained abroad. The plans post 9/11, and the lessons learnt from the Iraq war are to upgrade the MARCOS as special forces both in numbers and with equipment of quality. The old Italian Cosmos mini submersibles have out lived their lives. The Navy is also speedily completing the first phase of its large new Naval base “Seabird” and fitting it out with the $ 32 million Syncrolift received from Florida USA, whose sub contractor is TTS Handling Systems of Norway for the transverse systems being built in India. The new Naval Academy at Ezhimalai on the West coast near Calicut where Vasco da Gama landed is also progressing well and dockyards are being upgraded.


The Indian Navy is by far the most pro active and capable naval force in South Asia which with  “India’s Look East Policy”  can contribute to stability in the Indian Ocean as also  enhance cooperation with other navies. It has already facilitated many exchanges of visits including one in November 2003 by INS Ranjit, INS Kulish and Tanker Jyoti to China for SAR exercises with whom India is engaged to solve its border disputes. The Navy held an impressive International Fleet Review in 2001 in Mumbai, hosted conferences and conducted multilateral SAR and other exercises with most navies, as well as coordinated patrols with USA in the Malacca straits and hosted ship visits additionally . It has assisted neighbours in hydrographic surveys and disaster relief operations. The Indian Navy  trains a few hundred foreign naval personnel annually  and its hardware is coming of age. The mission statement of the present Navy Chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh is prophetic,  “Most of all, I would like to be remembered as one who instilled and reinforced enduring core values and traditions in the Service for A World Class Navy.”

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