The Indian Navy: Pushing the ‘Make-by-India’ and ‘Make-for-India’ Programmes
Given all the hype and hoopla accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ campaign over the past few years, it is quite unsurprising to find that there is, particularly amongst the lay public, a fair degree of confusion between the terms ‘Make-in-India’ and ‘Indigenisation’. The fact is that the former encourages largely-foreign major manufacturing-companies to set-up manufacturing-units in India - whether for consumption by the Indian market itself or for export from India to markets in other countries. As such, its principal aims are job-creation, skill-development, and the transfer and absorption of cutting-edge manufacturing-technology and management-techniques. ‘Indigenisation’, on the other hand, is, perhaps, better described by the less ubiquitous slogans, ‘Make-by-India’ or ‘Make-for-India’. In short, indigenisation involves Indian industry manufacturing products and processes that would otherwise have had to be imported by India.
Where the Indian Navy is concerned, its indigenisation drive - launched in the 1960s - has, over time, matured into a success story worthy of both praise and emulation. Unafraid of ploughing a lonely furrow, the Navy - to a far greater extent than its two sister defence-services - has been an excellent example of increasingly-comprehensive indigenisation. The results are impressive across a range of naval capabilities, inductions and acquisitions. The fact that the Indian Navy’s ‘Directorate-General of Naval Design’ (DGND) has generated as many as 19 different warship-designs, leading to the construction of a staggering 119 surface and sub-surface combat-platforms (i.e., ‘warships’ and ‘submarines’) in Indian shipbuilding yards is, by any standard, a track-record of which to be proud. However, even more impressive have been the Navy’s successes by way of the indigenous development, production and deployment of a whole slew of systems and
sub-systems that go into the ‘float’, ‘move’, ‘fight’ and ‘survive’ capabilities of modern naval combatants. Amongst others, these incorporate surface and subsurface propulsion systems, power-generation systems, and, state-of-the-art weapon-sensor suites - all of which, taken in aggregate, have made the Navy’s ships, submarines and aircraft, both admired and respected.
Predictably, the Navy’s indigenisation endeavour has yielded incrementally richer dividends, to the great benefit of industry as well as the nation. Thus, the patrol vessels of the 1960s led to the Nilgiri/Himgiri Class frigates of the 1970s. Russian missile-capability was fully integrated into the indigenous frigates of the Godavari Class in the 1980s and was enhanced in the follow-on frigates of the Brahmaputra Class. As the 20th Century drew to a close, the Navy pushed out tangible manifestations of its latest design efforts in the form of the state-of-the-art destroyers of Project 15 (the Delhi Class). In more contemporary times, the ASW Corvettes of the Kamorta Class, stretched Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels of the Sumitra Class, the formidable destroyers of Projects 15-A and 15-B (the Kolkata Class and the Visakhapatnam Class, respectively), the country’s first indigenously built nuclear-propelled submarine (the Arihant), as also the six submarines of the Scorpène / Kalvari Class and, the first indigenous aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, all offer eloquent testimony to the meteoric growth of indigenous design and construction-capacity and capability. As things currently stand, Indian shipyards have as many as 41 indigenously designed warships in various stages of construction.
Seeking to emulate the Indian Navy’s successes, the Indian Army has finally decided to set-up its own equivalent of the DGND, leaving the Indian Air Force to catch up in the indigenisation process. Apart from supporting and encouraging the resurgence of Indian industry, indigenisation also cuts costs and/or dependence-levels, both of which translate to significant vulnerability since one has to depend upon imports throughout the life-cycle of the platform and its equipment.
The Navy remains acutely aware of the necessity for the country to proactively encourage the creation of ‘greenfield’ shipyards, with latest technologies and ship-building techniques/practices. It also recognises the urgent need to increasingly incorporate private shipyards into warship-construction and to actively support and, wherever possible, contribute to the modernisation of existing shipyards by adopting modular construction-practices and the preparation of very large pre-fabricated sections.
In 2006, the Indian Navy set-up a nodal ‘Directorate of Indigenisation’ (DOI), thereby sending out an unambiguous signal of its determination to proceed down the path of indigenisation. This path was sought to be defined by a ‘15-year Indigenisation Plan’ that would provide guidance to Indian industry. The fact that the Navy has issued three successive ‘15-year’ indigenisation plans even before the very first 15-year period has elapsed, is quite baffling! The original ‘15-year Indigenisation Plan’ was promulgated in 2003. Barely had five years elapsed when a fresh ‘15-year’ plan was promulgated in 2008, now covering the period 2008-2022. Even as Indian industry was still struggling to decipher the nuances of this second plan, a third
‘15-year’ plan has been published. It is true that requirements do need to be updated, but that feature could, perhaps, have been better catered for by three-year rolling-plans. A ‘15-year’ plan is meant to guide long-term investment-decisions of industry. If these plans are going to be so radically changed every five years as to merit a fresh issue of the plan-document itself, Indian defence-industry simply cannot make investment-decisions whose effects will exceed five-years.
That said, the current plan does specify five extant shortfalls that it seeks to redress: (1) a lack of credible R&D in military sciences and technologies; (2) inadequate amalgamation between R&D and the manufacturing sector; (3) the absence of an integrated approach amongst users, designers and manufacturers; (4) commercial-unviability due to a lack of economy-of-scale approach; and (5) the effect of technology-denial regimes. It also actively pursues the much-needed synergy required between three principal entities, each of which need to have a clear understanding of the Navy’s indigenous requirements, namely, (a) the Navy itself (the customer), (b) the DRDO (and other ‘designers’ of equipment and systems) and, (c) Industry (the supplier).
At the conceptual level, perhaps its most significant contribution it makes is the implicit distinction between ‘industry’ and ‘shopkeepers’ - where the former is keen on knowing about ‘systems’, broad types and classes of equipment, and, most of all, about the contemporary and future technologies that the Navy is (or is likely to be) interested-in. The latter merely wants to know which items from an existing inventory the Navy wants to buy, how many, in what time-frame, and at what price. Chapter 11 of the ‘INIP 2015-2030’ quite correctly addresses Indian ‘industry’, rather than ‘shopkeepers’. As such, it devotes substantial time, space and effort to outlining the technologies that need to be focussed upon. Drawing from the Navy’s 2009 “Science and Technology Roadmap-2025”, it identifies fourteen contemporary technologies that the Navy feels have significant defence-related applications: (1) Robotics and Artificial Intelligence; (2) Sensor-technologies; (3) Materials Technology (Stealth, Meta-metals, etc.); (4) High Energetics technology (Explosives, Anti-matter, Thorium, etc.); (5) Fusion Technology; (6) Space Technology; (7) Hypersonic Missile Technology; (8) Nano Technology; (9) Bio-technical Weapons-technology; (10) IT and Cyber Warfare Technology; (11) Unmanned Weapon Delivery-Systems; (12) Ocean-acoustics in littoral waters; (13) Networking technologies; and (14) Bio-fuels.
Unfortunately, like its predecessors, the ‘INIP 2015-2030’ remains ‘disdainful’, if not ‘dismissive’, of the main source of effervescence in India’s economic growth story -viz., the ‘Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises’ (MSME) sector. It does offer some fashionably de rigueur lip-service in terms of the MSME Sector’s contribution to the development of the Arihant. Yet, the INIP lacks a dedicated chapter - or even any specific direction or guidance - devoted to this sector. Instead, it continues with the trend, established in previous editions, of maintaining an overwhelming bias towards ‘big ticket’ items designed specifically for
‘blue-water’ application. This is because the operational overarch of the document remains regrettably woolly and merely regurgitates (albeit with some minimal refinement) past operational concepts.
In failing to articulate the changed operational environment within which the Navy will have to function in the period 2015-2030, and which is forcing a quintessentially
‘blue-water’ biased Indian Navy to operate - both offensively and defensively - largely within ‘brown waters’, the Navy is squandering the opportunity of properly guiding industry in general and the MSME sector in particular. In the medium term, any future naval conflict involving India and Pakistan - whether Pakistan is acting alone or in collusion with China - will involve significant offensive action by the Indian Navy in Pakistani littoral waters - a crowded, messy and confusing maritime space. Likewise, over the next couple of decades at the very least, the imperatives of coastal security - involving ‘State’, ‘non-State’, and ‘State-sponsored non-State’ malevolent entities - will see significant preventive and punitive defensive-operations by Indian Naval surface and airborne combatants in the brown waters of India’s littoral waters - once again a crowded, messy and confusing maritime space.
There is, therefore, a huge operational void that appropriate technology can and must fill and it is here that India’s MSMEs - whether acting on their own initiative, or as part of the offsets required to be effected by one or another of Indian or foreign defence-‘majors’ can play a very significant role. The question, “What war-fighting technologies is the Navy desperately seeking, with which to operate in the littoral?” deserves an answer of far greater specificity than that currently being provided by the Navy. Staying with the medium term, conventional maritime conflict under the India-Pakistan-China nuclear overhang is very likely to be time-compressed and ‘Special Ops’-intensive. There is much that the MSME Sector can achieve here: paper-batteries to power hand-launched ‘micro-UAVs’; camouflaging of the ends of GPS-trailing-wire antennae for use in specific environments (such as the creek areas of Gujarat and Sindh or the swampy areas of the Sundarbans); electrical high-speed outboard motors (OBMs) and noise-cancelling/sound-blanking solutions for two-stroke and four-stroke IC-engine OBMs; portable power-ascenders for boarding operations, amphibious raids, etc.; ‘Low Observable Technology’ semi-submersible craft;
diver-scooters and diver-propulsion vehicles; image-recognition software that can provide ‘suspicion-indicators’ (such as a fishing-vessel not conforming to the local design or layout, or, a trawler streaming demersal-fishing gear but operating in the deep waters off our east coast); etc. All this is only a small sample of the plethora of examples that could be handled by the MSME Sector if only the Navy would take the trouble to properly ‘educate’ this sector in terms of its likely operational pattern in any future conflict.
At the high-end of war fighting capabilities, of course, Indian industry is increasingly entering into a number of new and exciting partnerships with global players on the one hand and the Indian Navy, on the other. Obvious examples include major systems required for aircraft carrier operations, such as Electro-Magnetic Launch Systems (EMALS), arrestor-wires and aircraft-lifts; air-cushion landing craft (LCAC) for deployment from Landing Platforms [Dock] (LPDs); Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems, super-cavitating torpedoes, electromagnetic rail-guns, hyper-velocity projectiles, blue-green lasers, ship-borne anti-ballistic missile systems, etc.
Contrary to the pervasive pessimism that all too often seems to be the Indian staple diet, the truth is that the Navy’s relentless drive for indigenisation has already yielded impressive and encouraging results in a number of critical war-fighting areas. A number of illustrative examples exist. The DRDO has frequently received adverse media-attention, but it has many success stories as well - at least insofar as the Navy is concerned - and it would be churlish not to acknowledge this. The range of Electronic Warfare Suites such as the revamped ‘AJANTA’, as also the ‘ELLORA’, ‘KITE’, ‘HOMI’ and ‘PORPOISE’, all of which are fitted on the Navy’s latest frontline surface, airborne and subsurface combatants, and which are designed to detect the presence of enemy combatants without disclosing one’s position or identity, are certainly success stories of which we ought to be proud - and these have all been designed by the Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL), Hyderabad, and are manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The same is true of the Navy’s advanced underwater-sensors such as the APSOH, HUMSA NG and USHUS family of sonars. These have been developed by the Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL), Kochi. Likewise, an indigenous state-of-the-art electro-optical Fire Control System (FCS) the ‘EON 51 Mk II’, designed by IRDE, Dehradun, and productionised by BEL, is now a standard fit. Pitching-in directly with its own formidable developmental expertise, the Navy’s WESEE (Weapons and Electronics Systems Establishment), along with the Centre for Development of Telematics, has rendered yeoman service to the overall indigenisation-effort through its series of world-class ‘Combat Management Systems’ (CMS) and data-link systems (LINK-II Mod 3), now being manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). These form the heart of the entire C4I2SR set-up on board most classes of the Navy’s frontline warships. Likewise, the indigenously designed and developed ‘REVATHI’ three-dimensional ‘Central Acquisition Radar’ (CAR), which is installed aboard the Kamorta Class Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) corvette is not only a success story, but is also a good example of the growing ‘Public-Private Partnership’ (PPP) in defence production. The design and production of this radar has been undertaken through a collaborative effort between the Navy, the DRDO and M/s L&T, Mumbai.
Similarly, the Indian Navy has partnered GTRE, Bangalore, in ‘marinising’ the ‘KAVERI’ Gas Turbine and is expected to induct these in increasing numbers. Deserving of special mention are four indigenously developed system-management suites, viz., the ‘Integrated Machinery Control System (IMCS), the ‘Integrated Bridge Management System’ (IBMS), the ‘Integrated Propulsion Management System’ (IPMS) and the ‘Battle Damage Control System’ (BDCS) that now equip the Shivalik, Kamorta, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam classes of warships, as also the Vikrant. The successful leveraging of Navy-designed IT networks and IT-security platforms stands in sharp contrast to the grave concerns often expressed in respect of the country’s remaining critical infrastructure.
Even outside of ‘equipment’, there is much to cheer about. The Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), Hyderabad, in collaboration with M/s Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), and with active participation from the Indian Navy, has successfully undertaken the indigenous development and production of warship-grade ‘DMR249A’ steel plates and bulb structural sections for ship and submarine applications. This represents an enormous step in freeing ourselves from the yoke of pressures and prices associated with the import of steel, as was the norm until very recently. The results are evident (and will be increasingly so) in the construction of the Navy’s big-ticket platforms such as the Vikrant and the future submarines that are to be constructed under ‘Project 75-India’. In recognition of the criticality of the PPP-model and guided by the recommendations of the ‘Dr Vijay Kelkar Committee’ that had been set-up to look into the issue of private sector participation in the defence industry, the Navy has taken a number of measures to optimise the potential created by the growing capability of Indian Industry coupled with the shift in Government policy to allow for private partnership in the defence sector. Regular buyer-seller meets and vendor-development programmes are being conducted by nodal organisations within the Navy. The procedures involved in registering as defence vendors are likely to be tweaked to make them both simple and transparent and if the industry is able to adhere to the specifications that are needed and deliver the desired products at competitive prices, there is immense scope for collaboration for mutual benefit.
Insofar as the Navy’s acquisition-plans for combat-platforms are concerned, they remain both impressive and ambitious, as the following illustrative-listing indicates:
03 x Aircraft Carriers
07 x Guided-missile Destroyers
08 x Guided-missile Frigates
06 x Guided-Missile Corvettes
12 x ASW Corvettes
16 x Shallow-water ASW ‘Light-Corvettes’
05 x Enhanced-capability Offshore Patrols Vessels
04 x Landing Platforms [Dock] (LPD)
12 x Mine Counter-Measure Vessels (MCMV)
05 x Fast Fleet-Support Ships
03 x Training Ships
05 x Nuclear-powered submarines
12 x Conventionally-powered submarines
04 x Long-range Maritime Patrol & ASW fixed-wing aircraft
16 x Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH)
16 (+ 54) x Multi-role Helicopters
44 x Naval Multi-role Helicopters
140 x Naval Utility Helicopters
And yet, although the Indian Navy is an acknowledged pioneer in terms of promoting private participation and private-public partnerships for the induction of equipment, there is much that remains to be done. Where manned and unmanned aircraft are concerned, for instance, the state continues to be grim. While the efforts of HAL can hardly be downplayed, there is a widening gap between the requirement and capability. It is true that the Navy - like its sister services - needs to freeze specifications at a reasonable point in time. It is, however, equally true that the gallop of technology and the telescoping of the point of obsolescence cannot be ignored. What is at stake here is not merely the somewhat esoteric, long-term development of capability, but of real lives that an enemy is actively engaged in attempting to snuff out.
Armed combat is brutal, real, and terminal in nature. We cannot afford the luxury of a media-debate when precious lives are at stake. This may sound a trifle dramatic, but it is, nevertheless, a fact that needs to be recognised. As a consequence, there is certainly a need to encourage far greater synergy between the uniformed and civilian segments of the Ministry of Defence. One of the most important steps taken in this regard by the present government is the extensive revamping of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP).
The current aim of the Navy is to achieve 85% indigenisation through extensive interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and the Organisation of Small Scale Industries (OSSI) to identify the right sources for our equipment. The MSME sector is yet to weigh in with its much vaunted effervescence and this certainly needs to be the Navy’s focus-area.
All this notwithstanding, there is no gainsaying the fact that howsoever impressive the advances that have been made, the way ahead is still a long and challenging one.