An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 04 December 2001

This year the Indian Navy celebrates Navy Day on 4 December as usual on a high note, commemorating also the 30th anniversary of its brilliant missile boat attack by the 'Killers' on Karachi in 1971. During Navy Week ships in ports are opened to visitors and functions are held to ensure that the public appreciates the role of its silent men in white, who toil at sea in ships and submarines, away from the gaze of the nation. It is well said that no Navy can choose the direction of the wind, but every proficient sailor knows he can control the setting of his sails, and that is figuratively what the Navy has done by cutting its cloth according to its budget. What the Navy has achieved recently deserves appreciation.

Analysts who follow world navies at Jane’s and Wyers have good words to say about the Indian Navy’s role and steady expansion in the last few years –– after some years of neglect. In 1999, the IN successfully executed the classical naval manoeuvre and was poised to blockade Pakistan, which led to its early capitulation in the Kargil war. This tactic is inscribed in the Royal Navy book of Maritime Strategy and is cited in institutions abroad. The Navy has also successfully inducted the state of the art Klub and Barak missiles from Russia and Israel in its latest Kilo class submarines and ships. The Navy has assisted the DRDO in making the Prithvi missile (called the Dhanush), go to sea on an OPV off Balsore, with help from Larsen & Tubro. Though the missile can do with up gradation, the homemade effort is laudable. Earlier this year, the Navy hosted the spectacular International Fleet Review at Mumbai with élan, to ‘build bridges of friendship’ and displayed how cost-effective the Navy is, in furtherance of its regional diplomacy.

It has to be appreciated that the Navy being a multi-dimensional force operates on the surface, below it and above the surface –– therefore the planners of any aspiring Navy need vision to face the challenges of multiplicity in far greater measure than the other two services. The Navy is also capital-intensive, as costs of ships and sea-going aircraft is higher than other hardware available off the shelf, as the demands world over for the Naval inventories is small. Therefore, there is always a dilemma for Naval planners to either go for quantity or quality. China decided on the former and is now aspiring for the latter. It is to the credit of the Indian Navy that it chose an innovative and balanced approach. The Navy ordered quantity by way of survey ships, patrol craft and Leanders through indigenous production and looked to foreign countries especially Russia, UK and Germany to provide the more modern ships and submarines. It inducted technology whilst remaining within its limited budgets well below $1 billion till the mid 90s. This surprised the world as the Navy consciously economised on its spending ashore and ensured a greater ratio for its teeth at sea.

The driving force for any service is the quality of its personnel and the budget the nation can afford. It is heartening to note that the Navy’s budget has now edged up to a healthy 14% of the Rs 67,000 crore defence budget. The Navy constitutes only 6% of the manpower of the entire armed forces. As manpower is now prohibitively expensive the Navy unlike the Army and, to some extent the Air Force, has been able to control revenue expenditure and divert the rest for capital expenditure and purchases.

If this trend to allocate greater percentage continues as George Fernades has assured and is logical, the Indian Navy could rise from its ninth position in the world to become sixth in this decade, all being equal and as India’s economy continues to expand. To build latest warships and submarines the only way to go is to build in numbers to achieve scales of economy, and hence India will have to look to co-production with friendly countries and exports also. In the past proposals including those from Singapore were turned down and Europe has shown the way.

In India the ship building industry and defence production have been reserved for the Government and the shipyards and the PSU’s operate under the Defence or Shipping ministries, which has its limitations. Technology and ship building techniques have galloped and the monolithic PSUs take time to adapt. However winds of change are appearing and the Secretary Defence Production Shri Subir Dutta speaking at the Ordnance Factories annual meet on 1 December at the Vigyan Bhavan announced the policy to permit 26% investment by private sector and its rules are to be promulgated before the year end. CII has done much in this regard and the fruits are likely to show in the coming year and DEFEXPO 2002 to be held in February 2002 has seen its space booked up by many Indian and foreign companies. It promises to be interesting.

The Navy has been nimble in its budgeting and sanctioning procedures and has established an in-house mini R&D set up called the WEESE and a Ship Design team which has helped it design and select equipment and complete the busbars for meshing western and Russian weapon systems and the EMKA command and control module. When private participation in Defence Industry is permitted and India’s archaeic secrecy laws eased, the Navy will have an opportunity to coordinate and release the sonar, simulators and EW designs it has achieved with the DRDO for manufacture by private firms, as these are today made only by Bharat Electronics.

Equipment designs are no longer as secret –– the Navy buys many from vendors abroad. It is the operational data and abilities of units that need to be kept secret and this paradigm shift has to come. When this is achieved it will be a quantum leap for the Indian Navy and the Armed Forces and it will get more bang for its bucks. In the recent National Security seminar it was accepted that the Navy’s experience in successful DRDO projects deserves emulation by the Army and Air Force. The DRDO team headed by the Navy is also looking forward to steering the ambitious ATV nuclear submarine project faster and firms like Larsen and Tubro, Tatas and Mazagon docks are involved.

The template of the future Navy is also well chalked out. The flat top Gorshkov with MIG 29K and Kamovs is on the cards and an indigenous air defence ship is on order at Cochin shipyard to bridge the gap for integral naval aviation. Naval aviation’s prowess has so well been proved in the Afghanistan war. The first of three Type 17 stealth frigates are under construction and three advanced 6700 ton Delhi class ships are on order and the three Type 75 Scorpene class submarine construction programme under finalisation, all at the Mazagon Docks.

At Kolkata the Garden Reach Workshops are being hastened to deliver the Type 16 Leanders INS Betwa and Beas –– long overdue, and a large landing ship tank has been ordered. The first of three Krivac Klub vertical firing missile ships, INS Talwar will commission in 2002 and when it joins the Fleet once again the Indian Navy will have the very latest and world class ships in its order of battle.

On Navy Day therefore one needs to give a pat to the Navy for its healthy balance sheet and budgeting, and the Nation be goaded to see its stock soars –– for the Navy knows it can never rest on its oars. But they also know that as long as they pull together they will continue to be secretly acknowledged the world over and that is good for India’s stock.

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