Nitin Gokhale, the Editor -in- Chief Bharatshakti.com, in an exclusive interview, spoke to the Navy Chief on the eve of the Navy Day. The interview was conducted on board the Navy’s showpiece, INS Visakhapatnam, a brand-new Destroyer, built indigenously. A shining example of the Navy’s successful indigenisation pursuit.
Nitin Gokhale started the interaction by thanking the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) for sparing time for the interview. Nitin expressed the opinion that their needs to be greater familiarity of our citizens regarding our Navy and maritime issues. “We need to have more awareness about the maritime issues and the Navy, and you are leading the charge on that count.” The gist of various issues raised by Nitin Gokhale and the opinions expressed by the Naval Chief are elaborated upon, beneath.
Indian Navy’s Focus on Indigenisation
The CNS began by stating that the Navy has committed that it will be Aatmanirbhar by 2047. “Along with India celebrating a hundred years of independence, the Indian Navy will be 100% indigenous.” To achieve that, the Navy’s ships and submarines are being built in India now. The journey had started in the 1960s with small patrol boats. The Navy has moved on to bigger and bigger destroyers, to finally build its own aircraft carrier that was just commissioned last September. The Navy has really evolved, and 75% of the carrier is indigenous.
The Navy is there as far as the components of shipbuilding are concerned. Our ships have between 65% to 95% indigenous content, today. There is a need to be the prime mover in gas turbines and the focus area really is on the flight component. 50 – 55% of the missile systems, radars and torpedoes are indigenous. Flight components like weapons, and sensors is the focus now. In five to six years, the Navy will be able to achieve that.
The focus now is in indigenous development of weapon systems for aircraft, submarines and ships. The challenge is their integration into the existing systems. There are no issues regarding new platforms, we can fit our systems on board.
The thrust is also on cutting-edge technology. On the aviation side, Navy is working on the Tejas to understand the challenges which are unique. The Navy Chief said, “We are confident that we can produce suitable fighters for the Indian Navy. We expect a Made in India prototype by 2030, and in 15 years first production of jets will materialise.”
Handholding of the Indian Industry
The MoD has the iDEX scheme that was initiated a couple of years back jointly by the Navy and the industry. The Navy Chief explained that, “We have created the Naval Innovation and Indigenisation Organisation (NIIO), and the Technology Development and Acceleration Cell (TDAC). We had the first Swavlamban seminar last year, in which 75 challenges were released to the industries.”
The response was overwhelming with 1118 companies responding. 120 contracts have already been signed. As far as this year’s Swavlamban seminar is concerned, the products are already either undergoing trials or in some cases, have already entered into service. Additional challenges have also been shared with the industry. The Navy is financing the companies – MSMEs and start-ups – through the Technology Fund, and is fully involved as a user.
Acquisition of 26 Rafale Marine aircraft
Indian Navy is acquiring 26 Rafale Marine aircraft which will meet the requirement for one carrier – INS Vikrant. It will have certain have certain advantages in terms of indigenisation also, like facilitating the MRO, the supply chain for radar and EW (Electronic Warfare) systems, the overhauling of engines, parts of the airframes which will also be manufactured in India.
The CNS said, “When we look at the time frames, it will take 36 months, and it involves trials to prove its worthiness for the carrier. Essentially, by 2026 or 27, it will be with us. By the time it starts coming in, the MiG 29 will get phased out, and then we will have indigenous aircraft.”
Progress of the case for Second Indian Aircraft Carrier (IAC)
The Navy has moved the case for a second indigenously built aircraft carrier. The Navy has the ability to make the carrier; and there’s always been a felt need for having more aircraft carriers. If we look around, China is building 10, and other countries have adequate numbers. IOR is vast, so there is a need to have at least two operational carrier battle groups; for that, the Navy requires three carriers. The Navy’s case is under consideration. The Cochin Shipyard has adequate experience and world-class facilities.
On the issue of a bigger aircraft carrier, the CNS said, “We feel that we must tap into available things and have the expertise and the capability to build them. Secondly, this is the age of drones and new, niche technologies, so why not look at unmanned aircraft to team up with the manned aircraft so that probably we may be able to generate, a similar type of capability?” There will be more firepower, with manned and unmanned aircraft on the deck of the third aircraft carrier.
Lag in Building the Submarine Arm
Currently, the Navy has 16 submarines, some of which are old. However, six new Scorpene induction should be completed by this year-end or early next year. The Navy is going ahead as per the 1999 approved submarine building program. The plan has got delayed, though. There is a repeat order of three more Scorpene being pursued by the Navy. The RFP (Request for Proposal) has been delayed because of the model we want to purse – the Strategic Partnership model. In the submarine building plan, Navy plans to do it in two phases. In the first phase, through strategic partners transfer of technologies takes place, and we get to know how it is manufactured.
The second phase is completely indigenous. Now that the bids have been submitted, these are being processed. Simultaneously, Navy is also looking at indigenous design and development which is being referred to as “Project 76 to develop 12 next-generation conventional-diesel submarines that will meet our requirements.” We have a good ecosystem, especially with the nuclear submarine project, and the design technology is the same.
Indigenous Naval Helicopter Program
The Navy has inducted the ALH Mark III, Advanced Light Helicopter, recently. The Navy is generally satisfied with the model, certain improvements are being carried out. One of the main challenges with the ALH is the blade-folding, which is also being resolved.
The CNS also said, “The Navy is also looking at the multi-role helicopters, which are big fish. The challenge is the numbers are not as big as the Army or Air Force, and if you develop a helicopter first for the land operation, then it is difficult to make it work on the ship.”
Development of Underwater Technology
The Indian Navy has already drawn its unmanned road map, which was approved by the MoD in 2021, and is progressing it. The Naval Chief amplified, “The idea is to give the industry some direction about unmanned aerial vehicles, surface vehicles, and underwater vehicles.” DRDO is developing some models and some industries have come forward with their own proposals, which have been assessed for suitability. The Navy Chief also informed that, “We have set up an unmanned squadron in Karwar and hope to integrate it with our normal operations.”
Induction of MQ-9B Predator Drones Status
The Navy has sent its LoR (Letter of Request) and is awaiting the details. The discussions on pricing will follow.
On Nitin Gokhale posing a question regarding P8-I aircraft vis-à-vis MQ 9B drones, the CNS clarified that the “P8I is an anti-submarine weapon, which we actually confuse with a surveillance system. It has the ability to hunt submarines, which is not true with the Predator. We now have the surveillance version (of the Predator), but it can also be weaponised.” However, it will not have the same capability as the P8I. The Navy is going ahead with purchasing 31 weaponized Predator-B drones, out of which 15 are for the Navy and 16 are for the Air Force.
The China Threat and Regional Stability
China is aggressive. The best example is what’s happening in the South China Sea and how China engages with smaller regional countries. There is a requirement to abide by the rules-based order. The Navy’ task is to keep a close watch on what is happening there and see that our interests are protected in the Indian Ocean Region, which is our main area of interest, and also the larger Indo-Pacific. In that respect, a lot of mission-based deployments are taking place.
Commenting on the increased naval exercises with friendly foreign countries, the Naval Chief said that, “Trust comes through these exercises, and that is why the Indian Navy has added a new acronym – TIDE – to its lexicon, which stands for Trust; Interoperability; Domain Awareness; and Enhanced Engagements.”
These endeavours of the Navy are to inform these countries that we want to work with you, and you can trust us, That’s what the Navy is trying to do with the mission-based deployment. The Navy Chief also informed that the Indian Navy’s ships can switch to whatever role is required; “We have basically four roles, which are combat, diplomatic, benign (humanitarian) and constabulary (policing),” the Chief informed.
Post 26/11 Coastal Security Strengthening
Much has changed in the coastal security domain. It’s completely different from what it was at the time of the Mumbai attack of 2008. Coastal radars, vessels and manpower have been enhanced with better networking with the coastal police stations. The CNS said, “There are three layers – Coastal Police, Coast Guards and the Indian Navy and we regularly exercise together to keep vigil and guard coastal lines. All this has borne fruit now. However, there are challenges as there are more than four lakh fishing boats in the region, and a lot more work must be done. We are alert and continuously working on spreading maritime domain awareness.”
HR Management/ New Recruitment Policy
“Adopting the new recruitment process was not a challenge. Indian Navy will be a gender-neutral force that will not distinguish between males and females; only competence, capability, and ability are the criteria. Therefore, everyone has equal opportunities. If some want to go to submarines, that is also possible, but only through proper screening,” the CNS stated emphatically.
The Navy has very good people coming in – highly motivated, better qualified and tech-savvy. Everyone wants to be in the 25% to retain the job and continue. Every woman wants to be an officer, and they are very confident.
Nitin Gokhale, Editor-in-Chief of Bharatshakti thanked the CNS once again as he concluded the interview.