An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 09 December 2001

The Indian Navy knows it has a friend in George Fernandes and he is back in the saddle in the MOD. He has been very vocal in his support for the Cinderella service after he surreptitiously sacked CNS Vishnu Bhagwat on 30 December 1998, almost as if to atone for his actions, and that bodes well for our men in white and the nation. The results are now showing after years of neglect. Fernandes’s socialist leanings and anti US stances of yore, have also contributed to a revised relationship with the Russians and matters have moved ahead on Indo-Russian defence collaborations. He had also initiated a fast track regime at high level in the Inter Governmental Commission. It is the nimble Indian Navy that has gained the most and it has a very ambitious yet balanced template for its future programmes largely based on Russian support for its ships, aircraft and submarines. The recent war on terror has also stressed the need for maritime ability as reliance on the seas for resources and mobility has also increased.

The Navy therefore celebrated 4 December this year as its NAVY DAY on a definite high, with over 14% of the Defence budget in its kitty. With manpower accounting for only 6%, the Navy can concentrate on capital spending for acquisitions. It was this day in 1971 when the killer Missile boats supplied by the Soviet Union were employed ingeniously to damage the oil tanks at Kemari and sink two ships off Karachi. The Navy also throttled the Eastern flank of Pakistan in what is now Bangladesh.

Benazir Bhutto recently on a visit to Delhi had admitted it was the atrocities of the Pakistani military under General Ayub Khan that led to the break up of Pakistan and the nation knows the contribution of the Indian Navy in that war. It was the Soviet supplied equipment that carried the day for the Navy's brilliant performance and much credit on this day must also go to late Admiral of the Fleet Sergei Gorshkov the builder of the Russian Navy, who was kind to the Indian Navy and supplied ships and equipment over and above the call of the signed MOUs.

He visited India three times and offered his advice and experience and his motto was that the Indian Navy should ask, and he would deliver, at times from the operational inventory of his own Navy. He truly appreciated the professionalism of the Indian Navy and helped build the massive Vishakapatnam Naval Dockyard hoping that one day the Soviet Navy could seek warm waters there. I recall as his liaison officer three times over, he recommended Bimlipatnam as the Naval base as Vishakapatnam’s narrow entrance can easily be blocked by just one ship and that can hamper operations.

At that time the Navy could not afford that luxury, but now the Navy is building a naval base called ‘Project Seabird’, located near Karwar on the West Coast and contractors like Larsen & Tubro and J M Baxi are the gainers in the first phase of construction. Phase two will be even bigger with construction of the jetties and syncro lift facilities.

Today India still owes $3 billion to Russia for the Missile boats, 8 Petyas, 5 Kashin (Rajput) class ships, 16 Submarines, Minesweepers, Kamov helicopters and IL38s and TU 142s and other equipment that was supplied on easy and long payment terms. Russia is now obliged to import Rupees 3000 crores worth of goods from India annually in settlement and they are getting wiser now to demand market prices as opposed to friendship prices, as the Defence Secretary put it. This is the challenge and there is a rethink to go in for collaborations to offset the costs. This augurs well for Indian industry as the Defence Ministry plans to open up the sector and CII have been working hard at it.  The naval experience in this regard is worthy of emulation.

Since new relations of equality beyond the iron curtain in defence cooperation is on the cards, the recent visit of PM Vajpayee to Moscow on 4th November along with Brajesh Misra and Defence Secretary Yogendra Narain saw many more understandings. These could include the acquisition of the badly needed aircraft carrier Gorshkov and the MIG 29Ks and Ka 31 AEW helicopters with Indian components for which an MOU was signed some years ago. The lease of a Schkuka 2 nuclear submarine is also on the cards to enable the Indian Navy to assist the DRDO in completing the ATV project on which some Rs 1200 crores have already been spent and a huge infrastructure established.

Industry is full involved with BHEL for supplying the boilers, tubing and heat exchangers, Mazagon Docks and Larsen &  Tubro supplying the modules for final welding at the ship building facility at Vishakapatnam and Tata Consultacy and others supplying other services and special metals and welding equipment. BEL is supplying the electronics. When the project succeeds India will be the sixth country to have mastered nuclear submarine construction. It is the epitome of shipbuilding.

Indo-Russian defence collaboration in industry is looking up and the plans include production of the BrahMos long range cruse missiles –– even for export –– for fitment on land vehicles, ships and aircraft. The first launch was successfully carried out at Balasore earlier this year.

Recently Larsen & Tubro assisted the Navy and DRDO in the stabilization platform for the Dhanush (Prithvi) version  to be successfully fired from an OPV. The Army is slated to assemble 176 T 90 Tanks in India and the IAF is to get the HAL to assemble the 140 SU 30s and there can be greater Indian industry participation if secrecy clauses are eased.

The experience of the Navy needs to be highlighted. It is the silent service, which helped itself to cooperate with the DRDO and shipyards and civilian firms to ensure deliveries of its platforms.  The now elongated Leander programme of the Indian Navy to build ships at Mazagon docks heralded a host of vendors and suppliers for valves and associated equipment. Leader of Punjab took on the gauntlet and many switch boards, generators, lights and battery producers became suppliers to the Warship Production Agency.

For Electronics, the Navy decided to set up  its own mini R & D agency under NHQ called WEESE (Weapons Engineering and Electronics System Engineering). It has done pioneering work on the busbar design to amalgamate western and Russian weapon systems successfully at low costs. It has helped the Navy select equipment and designed the EMKA command and control system amongst others. The team of M Tech graduate officers of high calibre were also sent abroad for training and the exposure helped.

The Navy’s ship design team has shown it prowess, again in collaboration with the Severnoie Design bureau of Russia and come of age to design the Delhi class and India’s first aircraft carrier to be built at Cochin shipyard. Model tests abroad have been successful.

The Navy has also helped the NSTL DRDO lab and Bharat Electronics to supply Sonars to its ships. It is now set to make the Mihir sonar for the ALH and Nagin for surface ships, which could have export potential. A civilian firm has also exported large submarine batteries to Algeria. The potential to go further exists.

There are therefore imperatives now for the defence industry to be opened up to private initiative as it now has the infrastructure, technology can be bought with partners being brought in, and the monopoly of the hugely expensive defence public sector, with high administrative and social costs, needs to be slowly weaned away and left to concentrate on a few strategic sectors.

In the way ahead the examples of the Navy are worth emulating. Many of these were recently highlighted at the USI in the annual National Security Seminar. This can be considered as the Navy’s present to the nation as we hail our men in white on their birthday.

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