Admiral RK Dhowan, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, ADC

Editorial Team
Saturday, March 19, 2016

“The Indian Navy’s strategy envisages positive engagement with maritime forces from friendly nations, so as to enhance mutual understanding, build interoperability, strengthen shared perceptions and develop opportunities for maritime security cooperation.”

Defstrat: During the International Fleet Review Indian Navy affirmed its position as a potent force capable of supporting the nation’s aspirations. It also sent a strong message of international cooperation friendship. What would be the next step?

CNS: The overall aim of hosting the International Fleet Review (IFR) was to shape a favourable and positive maritime environment by bringing all like-minded nations together for cooperation to ensure secure and tranquil seas. Such a mega event offers an opportunity for the host nation to enhance mutual trust and confidence with its maritime neighbours. Participation of ships and delegations from 50 nations in the International Fleet Review 2016 was a clear indicator of the global trust and confidence in India as a maritime nation and it’s Navy. This aspect is underpinned by the theme of the International Fleet Review 2016 - ‘United through Oceans’. Like the first IFR at Mumbai in 2001, the IFR 2016 at Visakhapatnam, has been significant in more ways than one. Apart from showcasing the Navy’s maritime capabilities, IFR 2016 included exhibitions highlighting India’s thrust on indigenisation and innovation through ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Green India’ initiatives. India’s rich, vast and diverse cultural heritage was also on display in the co-located IFR village. The International Maritime Conference on ‘Partnering Together for a Secure Maritime Future’ provided a forum for all participants to exchange views, refine Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and enhance interoperability and coordination for ensuring safe seas for all. As a concluding event of IFR 2016, 51 ships including 17 foreign naval ships participated in exercises aimed to enhance coordination, interoperability and cooperation with the underlying theme of keeping the ‘Global Commons’ safe and secure.

The next logical step post IFR-16, would be, not only continuation, but enhancement of cooperation, mutual trust, confidence, better understanding and interoperability with maritime forces of friendly nations, thereby underpinning the theme of the International Fleet Review 2016 - ‘United Through Oceans’.

Defstrat: Does Indian Navy plan to make its presence felt in distant seas like the South China Sea or the Pacific in the near future? How do you evaluate the Indian Ocean Region from the standpoint of threats and challenges to global commons?

CNS: The Indian Ocean today, has emerged as the maritime highway of the world’s trade and commerce. Energy and mineral reserves from West Asia and Africa head towards South-East and East Asia. The flow of goods and raw material has resulted in over 120,000 ships transiting through the Indian Ocean annually.

The rise of piracy in 2008 off the Horn of Africa, and the security situation in Afghanistan and West Asia, led to naval forces from a number of navies being deployed in the Indian Ocean and the North Arabian Sea. A non-traditional maritime security challenge, such as piracy, is trans-national in nature and has an adverse impact on both, regional and global economy. This is particularly so since the shipping routes through the Indian Ocean are principal global economic highways. Moreover, no one Navy has the capability and capacity to single-handedly deal with all pervasive maritime challenges such as piracy that had developed off the Horn of Africa. Overcoming such threats, therefore, necessitates a multi-national coordinated response, so as to maximise effect and ensure economy of effort.

The increased militarisation in the region offers both challenges and opportunities for cooperation. The Indian Navy (IN), in its revised maritime strategy, has enunciated its perspective towards ‘shaping a favourable and positive maritime environment’. The IN’s footprint in 2015, has expanded to areas as far as the Western Pacific Ocean in the East to the Atlantic Ocean in the West. The IN’s strategy envisages positive engagement with maritime forces from friendly nations, so as to enhance mutual understanding, build interoperability, strengthen shared perceptions and develop opportunities for maritime security cooperation. This would help in strengthening global maritime partnerships and networking among navies.

Defstrat: Given the growing focus on Indian Ocean Maritime security, is it likely that the Indian Navy may seek to launch a regular multilateral naval exercise to further engender naval cooperation with Indian Ocean Littoral states?

CNS: As I just mentioned, in order to provide greater focus and thrust to our regional maritime cooperation activities, we have formulated a dedicated strategy that is aimed at shaping a favourable and positive maritime environment in the region. This is part of our overall maritime security strategy document, which was comprehensively revised and was released by the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri, last year.

Shaping a broader maritime environment to counter the threats and challenges requires inclusive and cooperative efforts between the nations concerned and their maritime forces. In order to shape such cooperative responses, it is essential that maritime forces interact frequently to develop interoperability as well as a common perspective of the security challenges and responses. These initiatives are being pursued by the Indian Navy through maritime engagements in multiple ways that include port visits, personnel exchanges, staff talks, exercises with foreign navies, maritime assistance, operational interactions and high-level maritime strategic dialogue.

To engender naval cooperation and enhance interoperability with other maritime forces, the Indian Navy regularly exercises at bilateral and multilateral levels with various foreign navies in three participative formats - passage, occasional and institutionalised. The main thrust of exercises with the foreign navies is on institutionalised exercises, both bilateral and multilateral. Our operational interactions with friendly maritime forces seek to enhance mutual understanding, operational coordination and maritime security cooperation. These include MILAN, International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) Meetings, Coordinated Patrols (CORPATs) and Anti-Piracy cooperative mechanisms. At the maritime-strategic level, also, we have promoted and supported various mechanisms, including Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and maritime security cooperation under Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). With maritime security in the Indian Ocean region gaining greater prominence, countries are now more forthcoming to join these various mechanisms and interactions. At this stage, we are seeking to consolidate the various maritime security architectures and interactions through greater participation and forward momentum.

Defstrat: As part of a well-conceived and well nurtured strategy, the Indian Navy has been the most successful service in terms of indigenisation. There are, however, slippages in shipbuilding programmes. How does the Indian Navy plan to accelerate the ship induction process as well as reduce voids in Naval Aviation?

CNS: The development of our indigenous naval shipbuilding sector is a tribute to the many decades of hard work, the high skill-levels and expertise that has been developed in both, our naval design capability and public sector shipyards. Today, we can take pride in the fact that we have constructed over 120 warships in India, ranging from small seaward defence boats to large, advanced Destroyers and submarines. We are currently constructing a 40,000 tons displacement indigenous Aircraft Carrier. Very few countries in the world have been able to build such a range of expertise. Time and cost overruns in the past were due to a variety of reasons, which included reliance on external sources for technologically intensive weapons and sensors and capacity constraints and lack of infrastructure in our shipyards. Since then, measures such as modernisation of our shipyards and expansion of the shipbuilding base into the private sector have been fully supported by the Indian Navy and Ministry of Defence. These represent the way forward for both, building our national self-reliance base and for speeding up the shipbuilding programmes. Engagement of private shipyards for construction of vessels for the Indian Navy has been part of our indigenisation drive. In the process of engaging private shipyards in construction of naval vessels multiple benefits would accrue. First, is leveraging the higher national warship building capacity. Second, is greater assurance of meeting naval modernisation in the required time frames, through increasing self-reliance. Third, distribution of construction work load will, in the longer run, enable the Defence Public Sector Unit (DPSU) shipyards to focus on weapon intensive platforms in respective specialised fields. Also, there is the aspect of price discovery through a competitive bidding process. All this will enable greater all-round development of the nation’s ship building capability.

Indian Navy’s prime focus is on long term sustenance, increased reliance and enhanced capabilities on new generation aircraft such as MiG 29K carrier borne fighter, Hawk Advance Jet Trainer (AJT), KM 31 AEW helicopters and P 8I Long Range Maritime Patrol aircraft. In addition to indigenisation of systems and components, setting up of Deep Repair Facilities (DRF) in partnership with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for Hawk AJT and MiG 29K is being actively pursued. The Indian Navy is in active collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), HAL, other DPSUs and private industry in developing different aircraft and systems for various upgrade programmes on the current aircraft inventory. Future induction of aircraft would be largely based on Buy and Make (Indian) concept for projects such as Naval Utility Helicopter and Naval Multi-Role Helicopter. Traditional concepts of DRF within services/ DPSU would be complemented or replaced with capabilities in Indian Production Agency through Maintenance Repair Organisation facilities and Performance Based Logistics concepts.

Defstrat:  Submarines provide the Navy with extended operational reach and multiple strike options. At present the number of submarines in Indian Navy’s inventory appears inadequate considering the huge coastline and growing aspirations. What is a realistic roadmap to acquire the desired capability?

CNS: We have taken many steps to ensure the optimum operational availability and modernisation of these submarines along with measures to accelerate the submarine building plan.

Majority of the Sindhughosh class and all Shishumar class submarines have undergone modernisation and upgrade, which have significantly enhanced their combat capability. A proposal for extending the service life of the older Sindhughosh and Shishumar class submarines is also being pursued. As far as acquisition of new submarines is concerned, you are aware that six Scorpene class submarines are under construction at Mazagon Docks Shipbuilders Limited. The first Scorpene submarine is undergoing sea trials and is likely to be delivered by September 2016. Induction of balance submarines would follow thereafter. The plans to induct six more under Project 75(I) are being actively pursued, for construction at Indian shipyards, with suitable Transfer of Technology.

Defstrat: How badly has black listing of certain foreign companies affected naval modernisation programmes? Is there a viable solution to acquire similar technologies from other sources within a reasonable timeframe?

CNS: The de-barring of foreign companies has, in fact, proved to be a blessing in disguise and has resulted in augmentation of the Research and Development (R&D) efforts by the Indian indigenous industry. This has provided a significant boost to the ‘Make in India’ thrust by encouraging innovation and indigenisation. The R&D base in India is evolving rapidly and the IN has been supporting the quest to promote indigenous Research and Design, with special emphasis on shipbuilding projects. The IN, at the very initial stages, recognised the advantages of being a ‘builder’s navy’ rather than a ‘buyer’s navy’. India’s first indigenous warship INS Ajay was constructed by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd, Kolkata and commissioned in 1961. The IN also set up its own design department in 1964 and the first major weapon intensive platform, INS Nilgiri, a Leander class frigate was commissioned in June 1972. Today, all 46 ships under construction, which include an aircraft carrier and submarines, are being built in Indian shipyards.

The IN was also the first Service to partner with Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), even before it became a separate department in 1980. The IN has promulgated a Science and Technology Roadmap which has been made in consultation with DRDO. Further the IN has formulated its Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP) 2015-30, which has been shared with the Industry. This document lists the major technology areas and capabilities that the Indian public and private sector industry are encouraged to focus on.

The Navy is committed to supporting the R&D efforts by the DRDO, educational institutions and the private industry, towards enabling the creation of indigenous technologies to meet the challenges of the future. This is also well aligned with the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Government. It is our endeavour to progressively increase the indigenous content so that future warships are 100% made in India.

Defstrat: Modern navies are technology-intensive dealing with multi-faceted challenges and roles. How does the Indian Navy plan to create and sustain a three-dimensional networked force to deal with the evolving challenges?

CNS: The core approach towards this is through sustained focus on indigenisation, innovation, and by investing in higher technology-capable manpower. These factors have been incorporated into our updated and revised strategy and plans. The IN has fully embraced the concept of Net Centricity to conduct maritime operations and is accordingly poised to qualitatively enhance this capability as a force multiplier. All our ships, submarines and aircraft share a common picture with the shore based Maritime Operations Centres, enabling them to function in unison. Adoption of modern technologies such as software defined radios, high speed data links, high grade encryption system, decision support software and space based applications, will further enhance the awareness and potency of naval forces operating at sea. The induction of these technologies, along with many more on the anvil, will make the IN well placed as a networked force, integrating sensor and shooter, to deliver combat power across all dimensions.

Defstrat: Blue Water Economy is attracting greater attention by the day. Is the Indian Navy seized of its potential and ready to assist in harvesting the sub-surface cache of fortunes?

CNS: ‘Blue Economy’ requires a multi-agency approach as it involves diverse aspects like exploitation of marine resources both living and non-living, preservation of the marine ecology, environmental issues to mitigate climate change effects, and disaster management. Most coastal nations in our neighbourhood have initiated actions to both, harvest and safeguard, the wealth the oceans have to offer. India with its long coastline, numerous islands, and large Exclusive Economic Zone and continental shelf, will also benefit by harvesting the ‘Blue Economy’. This will enhance both, national as well as overall regional growth and development. However, linked with this enhancement, growth, and development is the ubiquitous requirement of ensuring security and stability in the maritime domain, so as to maximise the advantages accruable from ‘Blue Economy’ policies and initiatives. These aspects have been addressed in the PM’s vision of SAGAR - i.e. Security and Growth for All in the Region. Hence, our focused thrust for an inclusive regional national approach, especially in the IOR. For its part, the IN, has, and will continue to provide net security by adopting various means, individually and via cooperative mechanisms with other nations. This aspect has been articulated in the Navy’s new strategy document Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy. In the document, which is available on the Navy’s website, the ‘Strategy for Shaping a Favourable and Positive Maritime Environment’, covers various steps that the IN is taking, and will take, for providing net maritime security in India’s areas of maritime interest. The aim is to support all maritime activities, including blue economy, by preserving peace, promoting stability, and maintaining security at sea. Some of the means to achieve this aim include enhancing cooperation, mutual understanding and interoperability with maritime forces of friendly nations. Towards this aim, the IN undertakes deployments for exercising presence in our areas of interest, engages maritime forces of friendly nations in a number of ways and at multiple levels (such as IONS, MILAN, and events like IFR), assists nations in maritime capacity building and capability enhancement through cooperation in training, technical areas and hydrography, develop regional Maritime Domain Awareness, and conducts maritime security operations, both independently, and in coordination with other maritime forces in the region.