Conscious of its acute reliance on state-of-the-art technology, the Indian Navy has consistently maintained that indigenisation is a fundamental tenet of its planning and growth. Not only does indigenisation support and encourage the resurgence of India’s own industry but also cuts costs and dependence on foreign nations. Both these translate into severe vulnerabilities, especially since an importer has to depend upon the subsequent imports of spares, upgrades and accessories throughout the life cycle of the equipment. The Navy has a long and steady record of supporting indigenisation — a commitment of which it is extremely and justifiably proud. At the apex level of the Navy — the Integrated Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence (Navy) in New Delhi — a full-fledged Directorate of Indigenisation (DOI) was established in 2006 and functions as the nodal directorate for the Navy s indigenisation activities.
With the release on 20 July 2015, of the Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP): 2015-2030, the Navy has given unmistakable notice of its firm intent to establish itself as a true Builder’s Navy, with attendant spinoffs enabling India to be a net provider of security in her maritime neighbourhood, by building capacity and enhancing capability of her regional friends and partners. Further, it is a aware of the serious shortfalls in terms of both Indian R & D and Indian manufacturing, as the five drivers of the INIP, viz. (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 economies of scale approach; and (5) the effect of technology-denial regimes, clearly reflect the Navy’s clarity of perception in charting the course ahead.
Oddly though, this is the third avatar of the 15-Year Indigenisation Plan to have been published in just over a decade. The first 15 Year Indigenisation Plan was promulgated in 2003. Barely had five years elapsed when the plan was revised and re-promulgated in 2008, now covering the period 2008 – 2022. Now, halfway through this timelines, the requirements of indigenisation have once again been revised. Either this reflects some serious lack in the thoroughness with which the earlier projections had been made, or reflects a current naval incumbency’s seeking to make a mark for itself. Neither option is particularly flattering of the predictive-analysis capabilities of the Navy. As such, perhaps the appendices in the INIP 2015-2030 could have been better projected as refinements to the then in vouge INIP 2008-2022. In any case, it remains unclear why the originally promulgated intent of having the 15-Year plan fleshed-out by a series of short-term, three-year roll-on plans, was abandoned.
Despite this being the third iteration, the INIP 2015-2030 remains, for the most part, a rather routine attempt and conforms to the Navy’s well-intentioned but hardly path-breaking twin-track approach to harness the R&D potential of the DRDO, while simultaneously pursuing Transfer of Technology (ToT) with major industry-partners. Thus, even while paying fashionable de rigueur lip service to the criticality of Medium, Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) and their contribution to the development of the Arihant, the INIP lacks a chapter — or even some specific direction — devoted to this sector and, instead, 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, it forces a quintessentially blue-water biased Indian Navy to operate — both offensively and defensively — largely within brown waters. The document squanders the opportunity of properly guiding the 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 entities — will witness significant preventive and punitive defensive-operations by Indian Naval surface and airborne elements 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 MSME Sector — whether acting on its own initiative, or for fulfilling offsets obligations 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 space calls for an answer of far greater specificity than that provided in the INIP 2015-2030. The medium term, conventional maritime conflict under the India-Pakistan-China nuclear overhang is very likely to be time-compressed and Special Operations intensive. Yet the inadequacy of industry-guidance in Chapter 8 of the INIP, which deals with Special Operations and Diving, is staggering. There is so much that the MSME Sector can do 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. These are only a small sample of the plethora of examples that the INIP fails to include because of the weakness of its operational overarch.
Likewise, given that the true locus-standi of the Navy and the Coast Guard within the territorial waters of India lies in its ability to train the police. There is an extremely wide opportunity-space for innovative training-products such as intelligent tutoring systems or game-based training using mobile phones, or 3-D full-immersion technology simulations. The Indian MSME Sector, with its abundant tech-savvy youth-dividend, is ideally placed to dominate this field, provided they are suitably guided. Yet, the INIP is utterly silent on this score.
Another surprising omission is the manner in which the document has been structured using the commonly encountered: Float, Move, Fight, Survive matrix. There is a near-total absence of mention of the voids in the Survive category. Warships are designed to be capable of both dishing-out punishment as well as absorbing it. Fighting Hurt is a critical requirement that involves primacy of degrades paths over redundancy and reliability. There are a whole slew of closely interrelated battle-concepts, technologies, systems and equipment whose enunciation would have served the Navy and Indian industry well, but in respect of which the INIP remains, for the most part, mute.
All this criticism should not, however, detract unduly from the major achievements and the overall utility of the INIP 2015-2030. It does make a significant contribution towards attaining the desired synergy between the three principal entities that need to have a clear understanding of the Navy s 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 the most significant of these is the implicit distinction made in the INIP between industry and shopkeepers. While the former is keen about understanding systems, broad types and classes, 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 does the Navy want to buy, how many, in what time-frame, and at what price. Addressing itself to Indian industry, Chapter 11 of the INIP 2015-2030 devotes substantial effort to outlining the technologies that need to be focussed upon. Drawing from the Navy’s Science and Technology Roadmap-2025 , it identifies fourteen contemporary technologies that the Navy feels has 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.
In conclusion, the INIP-2015-2030 has several plus-points that cannot be ignored and yet, for all that, it does not quite rise to its potential. Regrettably, it tick-marks an important check-box, but does not quite manage to attain synergy between the medium-term operational imperatives that would apply to the Indian Navy and the indigenisation effort needed to ensure that India plays to its strengths in meeting the material demands of these imperatives.
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