INTERVIEW :Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy
Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC
On the occasion of 47th anniversary of the Navy Day on 04 Dec 2018, we were privileged to get an interview with Admiral Lanba. In a freewheeling QA session with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Defstrat), the CNS was forthcoming with answers to our queries in a frank and forthright manner. The questions were wide ranging, covering a large canvas, as would befit the occasion. Excerpts from the interview:
Defstrat: The past year has seen several developments in the Indian Ocean Region that have implications for India’s security and on the role of the Indian Navy-China obtaining Hambantota port on lease, developments in Maldives etc. How does the Indian Navy plan to develop itself to be the net security provider for the IOR?
CNS: India’s unique maritime geography, with a central location and reach across the IOR, has traditionally underscored India’s relationship with the seas. India’s maritime economic activities including energy security, seaborne trade, shipping and fishing have continued to expand across the region. In addition, the ever-increasing quantum of overseas investment and number of Indian Citizens overseas have created potential vulnerabilities.
Of equal significance are India’s relationships with our maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean and other areas where our national interests lie. These are deeply rooted in the principles of cooperation and inclusive development. India’s commitment to regional security is enshrined in our national vision of Security And Growth for All in the Region or ‘SAGAR’. These considerations require the Indian Navy, as the largest maritime security force in the region, to take the lead in creating a security environment wherein this vision can be realized.
The Indian Navy, therefore, seeks to shape a favourable and positive maritime environment towards preserving peace, promoting stability and maintaining security. We seek to achieve this through presence and rapid response of our maritime forces for all contingencies including HADR, proactive maritime engagement, capacity building & capability enhancement of friendly navies, developing regional Maritime Domain Awareness and contributing to maritime security operations. Together, these would contribute towards providing net security in the areas of our maritime interest.
Accordingly, the Indian Navy maintains a balanced fleet to ensure requisite capability to meet these objectives. Further induction of capabilities required to meet the maritime security objectives in future, as well as to continue to fulfil our role as the net maritime security provider is being progressed in accordance with the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan and the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan.
Defstrat: As per its Maritime Capability Perspective Plan, the Indian Navy aspires to enhance its fleet from the present 137 ship force to 200 ship fleet by 2027. At the same time, the Navy has been at the cutting edge of the indigenisation process. Developments in the IOR being both rapid and even alarming, do you consider the present ship-building capacities in India being adequate to meet the Navy’s Time lines? What steps do you feel are necessary to increment ship-building capacities?
CNS: The Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) clearly lays down the capabilities envisaged for the Indian Navy. In order to reduce the ship acquisition period assigned in the MCPP, capability and capacity assessment of Indian Shipyards is being undertaken periodically to ensure that projects are distributed commensurate to the potential of the shipyard. With the Defence Public Sector Undertakings, Ministry of Shipping shipyard and Private sector participating in our shipbuilding programmes, Navy is constantly striving for enhanced indigenisation in sync with our required timelines. The shipyard need to invest to upgrade these ship building facilities toward modular construction.
The Indian Navy accords high priority to developing indigenous shipbuilding capability. Presently, 34 ships and submarines are under construction for the Navy, of which 32 are being built in various Indian shipyards. Further, Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) has been accorded for 53 ships and six submarines. These platforms will replace the existing ships and submarines while augmenting our force levels.
Modernisation of Indian Navy is dictated primarily by the capabilities to be achieved, threat perceptions, prevailing external security environment, emerging technologies and availability of resources. Towards that, the present force levels are being augmented and modernised for undertaking the full range of roles and tasks defined for the Indian Navy. Our Navy remains a well-balanced, multi-dimensional force with modern surface, sub-surface and air assets, for defending our national interests against potential threats.
Defstrat: The Goa Maritime Conclave, hosted by the Indian Navy last year has been a cardinal initiative to identify common threats in the region and evolve mechanisms to enhance maritime awareness and combat emergent threats. What steps has the Indian Navy taken to convert the enormous spirit of cooperation generated at the Conclave amongst Navies of littoral nations in to tangible plan and objectives?
CNS: The Navy in its Diplomatic role has always been an important instrument for furthering our foreign policy. Naval cooperation is viewed as one of the most useful vehicles for translating regional and trans-national maritime security concepts into meaningful action. In order to undertake focused efforts in this regard in IOR, Indian Navy initiated the ‘Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS)’ in 2008, the first multi-national construct of the 21st century, for the IOR countries. In furtherance of the concept, it was proposed to initiate a full-fledged regional forum pitched at the ‘Head of the Service’ level to help find collective solutions to matters maritime in the IOR.
As the IOR remains the focus of the 21st century strategic landscape, ‘Goa Maritime Conclave’ has provided a platform for bringing together regional navies to address engagement deficit in the Maritime Security Affairs of the South and South East, Indian Ocean Region. Through this Conclave we have managed to forge cohesion among the regional navies despite their differing capacities and make the construct more active and relevant to the growing challenges in maritime security in the region.
Defstrat: With an increasing fleet strength, apprehensions regarding the Navy’s manpower limitations continue, especially in certain specific technological skill sets. How does the Navy look to address the issue of manpower shortage? Are there any specific plans drawn up to address these?
CNS: The apprehensions about limitations in specific skill sets may be a bit overstated. The Navy does have shortages, but these are managed dynamically to ensure that all required technological skill sets are available, especially, those that impinge on our preparedness and combat potential. We have been making steady and incremental progress in reducing manpower shortages. Moreover, the bulk of the officers joining the Indian Navy possess BE or BTech Degrees. Most of the sailor recruits are also well qualified. There would be some gaps between the academic qualifications of the recruits and the skills sets that the Navy utilises. These gaps are bridged in our training institutions. The vertical specialisations into which the officers and men are channelised is based on a carefully drawn out process that ensures shortages of ‘specific skill sets’ are appropriately managed.
Defstrat: The aspect of the Indian Coast Guard being under the operational control of the Navy is one that raises debate with some strategists opining that responsibility to safeguard ‘brown waters’ must lie with the Home Ministry with the Navy keeping focus on its premier blue water force. Is that an aspect of consideration in the Navy today?
CNS: The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have operated together in the maritime domain for over four decades. With the growth of the Indian Coast Guard, progressively, procedures for coordination between the two agencies in various maritime tasks have evolved.
Globally, almost all navies and coast guards share responsibilities across the spectrum of maritime activities, and the degrees of work-share is driven by multiple factors. Considering the unique characteristics of the maritime domain, magnitude of the task, available resources, and the threats, both Services need to continue to work together on multiple fronts. Both the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard interact regularly in order to streamline mechanisms for interagency coordination towards optimal utilisation of available resources in support of common objectives. However, looking forward, we would certainly like to minimise overlaps so as to enhance the overall value accrued to the nation.