By Asian Military Review


New Delhi, 31 December 2005


As a year-end tribute to the Indian Navy, we reproduce below an interview of Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, VSM, ADC, Chief of Naval Staff on the occasion of Navy Day - 4 Dec 2005 by Asian Military Review.

Q:   While extending congratulations on the achievements of the Indian Navy on Navy Day, especially on the swiftest peace time operational action ever taken by any Navy during the Tsunami on a fateful Sunday last year, which earned the Navy many plaudits, could you elaborate on the future induction programme of 21 ships on order in the Indian Yards and their time scheduling of induction, as you visualize it?

A:     The tsunami relief operation was a unique and unprecedented experience for us, and while we are proud of what we achieved, this disaster had many lessons for us, which we have encapsulated into an SOP. With jetties damaged and beaches submerged in the tsunami affected areas, accessing survivors and getting aid across was a major problem. We realized that in our part of the world, where disasters are a frequent occurrence, it is important to have a heavy sealift and heliborne capability to carry men and material across the beach. This has now been factored into our force-level plans.

As far as our future induction programme is concerned, in order to keep pace with the Navy’s growing responsibilities, the government had accorded “in principle” approval to the Navy’s 15-year shipbuilding and 30 year submarine induction plans”. Despite this, our force levels, for various reasons have already gone into decline due to lack of orders in the period 1985-95. It will be some years before we stabilize, reverse the declining trend and attain our target force levels. In any case, we are not fixated on numbers any longer, and are instead concentrating on acquiring the capabilities that we need to deliver the necessary effect on the adversary. These could be delivered by ship, submarine, aircraft, missile or Special Forces.

Today we have on order, 26 ships and submarines, which are under construction or will be built in our shipyards in Mumbai, Goa, Kochi and Kolkotta. Our yards now encompass the full spectrum of shipbuilding capability from patrol boats to aircraft carriers. Let me illustrate this by listing our pending orders; they include ten fast attack craft, the powerful Project 15-A destroyers, the Project 17 stealth frigates, landing ships (tank), a new class of ASW corvettes, offshore patrol vessels, and of course the 37,500 ton carrier (earlier called ADS, but now re-designated the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier). In addition to all this, the former VTOL carrier Gorshkov, is under modernization in Russia and is due to be commissioned by 2008.

If you include the six Scorpene class submarines, on which work is due to start in Mumbai soon, we have a shipbuilding package which is unique and comprehensive. I do not think any country/navy is embarked on such a varied, ambitious and exciting endeavour today!  

Q:   It has often been said that except for Cochin Shipyard Ltd being somewhat modern, the other Government yards like MDL, Goa, GRSE and HSL still need a complete revamp both in their technology of ship building and management practices, if they are to deliver ships in similar time frames as foreign yards, and of the same quality. Any views sir?

A:   It is true that at this moment, Cochin Shipyard has relatively more modern facilities and the biggest dry-dock, which is why they have bagged the order for building the indigenous aircraft carrier for us. The other shipyards in the defence sector (CSL belongs to the Ministry of Shipping) have lagged behind a bit because so far, there was no institutional methodology for periodic upgrading/modernizing of infrastructure. But things are changing now.

Having said that, we also know that Mazagon Docks is building some of the most technologically advanced warships today. They are shortly going to embark on the Scorpene construction programme, and will soon have many state-of-the-art facilities. Garden Reach and Goa Shipyard are also in the process of upgrading their infrastructure. The modern design and manufacturing capabilities, being acquired by all our shipyards are likely to be in place by end 2008. We have also embarked on a Benchmarking and Capacity Assessment programme for our shipyards to bring them at par with the best in the world.

It may be worth noting that a majority of the foreign shipyards, especially those in East Asia, have gained attention due to their faster rate of production of merchant vessels. In contrast, our defence shipyards are focused on warship building, which is a far more complex and diverse activity. Neverthesless, there is much scope for improving efficiency and productivity, and cutting down delivery times by introducing modern practices in our warship building industry.

By the end of this decade, after their upgradation and modernization, I am confident that the Indian public sector shipyards will have the capacity to deliver 4-5 major warships every year, which is the rate required to maintain our target force levels.

Q:   The ABG private yard at Surat is building three 3,000 ton Pollution Control Vessels with helicopter operating facilities for the Coast Guard with Rolls Royce collaboration. The yard also hopes to build large 120,000 ton tankers at Dahej. Larsen and Tubro another large private conglomerate is doing defence work and has offered to build Amur class submarines in collaboration with the Amur Corporation in Russia. Do you see a level playing field for private shipbuilders to build warships in the future, especially as foreign collaborators are allowed 24% equity and claim they can compete with Government yards?

A:  We keep a close watch on the private sector shipyards, and are well aware of their growing capabilities. We have frequently made use of their skills, including the construction of some minor vessels, yard craft and tugs etc, but the private sector has yet to receive an order for a warship. With the government opening up the area of defence production to the private sector (including up to 26% foreign investment) the “playing field” is (notionally), all set to become level. As far as we are concerned, we would certainly like the strengths and efficiencies of the private sector to bolster our shipbuilding plans.

The crucial question however, is whether we can or should approach the private sector unless the order books of the public sector undertakings (PSUs) are full? There is a view that some competition will encourage the PSUs to “pull up their socks” and become more efficient. My personal opinion is that there are unique strengths in both sectors, and the PSUs should be looking at outsourcing, offloading and joint-venture arrangements with private shipyards to create positive synergies and to improve their own performance. Maybe then, one day we will be able to have a fair competition between the two sectors.

Q:   Have we done away with cost plus contracts for ship orders and moved to fixed pricing or are they still the norm?

A: As per the revised Defence Procurement Procedure – 2005 all future contracts are to be “fixed price”.

Q:   This question may border on policy, but in theory with the signing of the wide ranging US India Defence Framework do you support refit of US and other foreign Navy ships in India and can we be cost effective, and do we have the capacity to do so at the present. It is reported the US Navy have been shown some Indian yards and they have carried out an assessment. This question is asked as that will give valuable exposure to the technical staff in our yards and will be beneficial as they will have to execute work to the satisfaction of foreign inspection agencies?

A:  The Naval Dockyards at Mumbai and Visakhapatnam have very high levels of skill and technical competence; they are both ISO 9001:2000 compliant. They have been dry-docking and refitting the complete inventory of IN ships including aircraft carriers, submarines, tankers and auxiliaries for decades now. Over the years they have been acquiring modern equipment, and adding to their expertise, and today they boast of advanced technologies like acoustic emission testing of pipes, ultra high pressure hydro jet-blasting, automated underwater hull survey, etc.

The Naval Dockyards at Mumbai and Visakhapatnam regularly undertake refits of ships from friendly Indian Ocean navies like those of Mauritius and Sri Lanka. Last year a French warship from their Indian Ocean Flotilla also underwent a short refit at CSL, Kochi. So technically I do not envisage any problem in carrying out the basic refits of US Navy ships in India. There may, however, be issues of dockyard capacity and technical know-how (in respect of US equipment), which will need further examination.

Q:   Could you comment on the programme to build/induct MCMVs, Hovercraft, DSRVs, Replenishment Tankers and Maritime Patrol Aircraft as these items keeps coming out in the media and in some cases RFPs i.e. Requests for Proposal have been issued?

A:  We are examining two offers of second-hand MCM vessels, one from the UK and another from the US. But our main thrust will be to build MCMVs in India at Goa Shipyard. That plan is very much on the cards, and we hope to start building the vessels in a year or so.

As far as maritime reconnaissance capability is concerned, our upgraded Ilyushin-38 Maritime Patrol Aircraft will return from Russia very shortly and will provide a boost to this capability. A proposal to replace our ageing Tupolev-142(M) Long Range Maritime Patrol and Anti-submarine Warfare aircraft has also been approved by the government, and we are on the verge of issuing an RFP.

 One of our fleet tankers is due to be de-commissioned shortly, and we looked at various options for either buying or building one. In all likelihood we will build one and the RFPs should be out shortly. As regards the DSRV, our selection process has just been completed and we are in the process of contracting for one such vessel, which should be delivered by 2008. Meanwhile, we also have are about to conclude very long drawn out negotiations with the US Navy to utilize their Submarine Rescue “Flyaway Kit”, should the need arise.

Q:  Please indicate the Navy’s approach on the 17,000 ton LPD USS Trenton and USS Blackhawk MCMV which the Indian Navy inspected at Corpus Christi? Admittedly the ships are old, but they are operational and well maintained and their technology is current. The Navy will surely be able to employ them fruitfully for peaceful humanitarian missions in the Indian Ocean along with operational sealift missions, and at $40 mill isn’t the USS Trenton attractive and timely?

A:  Indian Navy is examining the suitability of the 17,000 ton LPD USS Trenton and four Osprey class MCMVs, for induction into the Indian Navy under the Excess Defence Articles (EDA) programme of the US Navy. The LPD was commissioned in 1971.

As I said earlier, the tsunami had highlighted the need of an “across the beach” heavy lift capability for our Navy. A ship like an LPD which provides such a capability through embarked helicopters and integral landing craft can play a pivotal role, not only in amphibious operations but also in disaster relief. Seeing that we operate in a peacetime scenario most of the time, disaster relief now looms large in our calculus. The IN assessment team which visited US and sailed on board USS Trenton has assessed that it has a residual life of at least 15 years. As you have brought out, the offer is both cost effective and timely, and we have proposed the acquisition of this ship along with some helicopters. The offer of ex-USN MCMVs is also being evaluated by Naval Headquarters.

Q:     With Indian economy set to accelerate, India’s civil appetite for qualified manpower will increase. It has been often acknowledged, that the Navy because of its technological edge, trains its personnel well and even qualifies them for civil employment. Yet the pyramid for promotion in the Navy is skewed and only 16% or so of all officers make it to selective Captain rank (Deputy Secretary) in their 19/20th year. Therefore, those capable officers that do not, are tempted to leave and take up civil jobs given the salaries they are offered today, and the good pension benefits they receive? Is it an upcoming HRD challenge for a fast expanding Navy and how does the Navy plan to tackle it?

A:   All Armed Forces in the world have to live with a pyramid-like structure, which is necessary due to their peculiar hierarchy, and command & control requirements. With the envisaged growth in the Indian economy and the influence of market forces, attractive avenues for employment of our youth have certainly become a reality. We see both these conditions not as challenges, but as opportunities that complement each other, and are addressing this situation with a win-win strategy for all.

Our Navy operates at the high end of the technological and management spectrum. This means that the training and exposure that our personnel receive, qualifies them for good jobs in the outside market and provides a viable “second career” option which are confined not just to the merchant navy. In addition to our Permanent Commission entry, we have embarked on a “Short Service” Commission programme under which we recruit officers for a 7, 10 or 14 year liability. At the end of this period, they are free to go out, and will not impede the promotion path of those who are in for the long term.

 We are satisfied that we can pick out bright young people from “civvy” street, use their services for a finite period, all the while “value adding” to their abilities and then let them go. The majority of naval personnel find their transition to the civilian world smooth, and we are proud of the Navy’s contribution to nation-building by these individuals.

Q:    Coming to exercises, the Indian Navy deserves congratulations on the number of exercises and outbound visits it has taken part in, and in the bargain brought much credit and pride to the nation. How much and what does the Navy benefit from these exercises?

A:  The period after the end of the Cold War has seen a coordinated deployment of the Indian Navy and engagement with regional and extra regional navies, in conformity with our foreign policy objectives.

Particularly in the post 9/11 period, the stabilizing role of the Indian Navy in the IOR has been acknowledged and recognized by all major and minor navies in the region. After the relative isolation imposed upon us by the Cold War imperatives, we ourselves have also recognized the value of co-operative security and have consequently embraced the idea of international maritime cooperation. Over the past two years, we have held over 22 joint exercises with foreign navies. The ones that have been institutionalized have been given code names, and include Malabar Exercises with the US Navy, Varuna with France, Simbex with Singapore, Konkan with UK, Indra series with Russia, and Thammar ul Thaiyyab with Oman. We also arrange a multilateral gathering of regional navies in Port Blair biennially and this is called Milan. Defence Agreements/MoUs and Coordinated Patrols with regional countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam have also been concluded and some more are in the pipeline.

The overall objective of such bilateral exercises is two-fold. At the basic level, it is to improve mutual understanding and cooperation, overcome communication barriers (if any) and to evolve inter-operability through common drills and procedures. Once confidence is established, the forces move on to the next higher level of mutual learning by undertaking exercises, which demand enhanced professional skills at the tactical or operational levels. The degree of complexity of the exercises increases over a period of time, affording our personnel excellent training value. Beside, the inter-operability established during such exercises always stands us in good stead during emergencies (like the recent Tsunami disaster).

Q:   As per Naval plans, come 2008 the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov will have joined the Fleet and be the most potent warship in the East with tailor-made MiG 29Ks and a devastating airborne missile arsenal with commonality with the IAF. The IAF itself will be operating three Phalcon Digital AWACS on IL-76 platforms which can also operate at sea. Do you see this taking India’s Navy in to a true blue water era and its reach cover the SLOCs and major areas of the Indian Ocean, and how would assure our neighbours who may feel uneasy about these developments?

A:   Let me answer the second part of your question first. The issue of comfort or “uneasiness” in the neighbourhood should be directly related to a nation’s historical track record. The last time that we invaded anyone was about a thousand years ago, when the Chola and Sri Vijay dynasties launched a “cultural/religious” invasion whose impact is visible in places like Angkor Wat, Ayudhia, Borobudur or Bali in South East Asia. Ever since independence we have maintained an impeccable track record of non-alignment and non-interference in the affairs of others. At the same time, we have always lent a helping hand in the neighbourhood, often at considerable cost to ourselves. The tsunami relief operations were just the latest example.

An expensive lesson that history has taught us is that it is not enough to be economically strong. You remain vulnerable to coercion, interference and even invasion, unless your economic achievements are underpinned by corresponding military strength. Maritime power which includes naval forces is a vital component of this military muscle.

The Indian maritime vision for the 21st Century looks at the arc from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca as our legitimate area of interest and concern. India’s own maritime responsibilities encompass the security of a long coastline and our EEZ, safety of our shipping and sea lanes, and protection of island territories, among other things. Additionally, we not only have an international commitment, but it is also in our own vital interest to uphold peace and tranquility in these waters and ensure that seaborne trade proceeds without let or hindrance.

The strategic outlook for the next 10-15 years in the Indian Ocean is fraught with uncertainty, and we need to remain on our guard on the high seas. An aircraft carrier task force would be an ideal instrument to achieve “sea control” in an area of our choosing, provide protection to surface forces and convoys, or to project force in the littoral. The Gorshkov would therefore certainly help us in attaining a more credible “blue water capability”, if you wish to call it that.

Q:   Finally Sir, this is personal. As a young naval 'top gun' fighter pilot who trained with distinction at Lossiemouth UK to fly Seahawks off the carrier INS Vikrant, you had the unique distinction to fly Hunters in an IAF Squadron in the 1971 war and the kills earned you a well deserved Vir Chakra from the Navy’s sister service the fine Indian Air Force. Do you see the Armed Forces moving to “Purple Hat” inter-service postings at higher ranks as an essential ingredient for Flag Rank, to bring about inter service synergy so essential in today’s scenario?

A:   To set the record straight on a minor point, I am no 'top gun' pilot. Also I trained in RAF Wittering and RNAS Yeovilton in UK to fly the Sea Harrier off (the former) HMS Hermes, about 25 years ago.

Officers who serve in integrated organizations like the IDS HQ, the Andaman Nicobar Command and the Strategic Forces Command are already “purple hatted” to a great extent. However we are still some distance from the point where a “purple hat” or a joint tenure could be made a pre-requisite for promotion to Flag Rank.

This is so in the US Armed Forces, but do remember that it took a great deal of internecine warfare in their Services, and considerable blood-letting before an act of Congress (the famous Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defence Reorganization Act of 1986) could be passed. This Act legislates every single aspect of “Jointmanship” in the US Forces, from the post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, downwards. That is probably the only way to achieve “purple hatting” as you probably see it.

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