Navy's expansion dreams: Let’s get real - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 31 December 2019

Navy's expansion dreams: Let’s get real

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial in Business Standard
1st January 2020

There is a worrying disconnect between the navy’s budget and its spending plans. On the one hand, the navy has told a parliamentary panel on defence that it plans to build 24 new submarines, including six nuclear attack submarines (SSNs). On the other hand, the navy chief, Admiral Karambir Singh, has publicly lamented that, with the navy’s share of the overall defence budget having shrunk from 18 per cent in 2012-13 to just 13 per cent this year, the navy will have to make do with just 175 warships in 2027 instead of the 200 envisioned in the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan.

So dire is the navy’s fund shortfall that the defence ministry has been putting off sanctioning a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), which will cost more than Rs 75,000 crore, including the cost of its aircraft. There is similar vacillation in green-lighting Project 75-I, which involves spending Rs 45,000 crore on six conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion. There is the continuing liability of some Rs 90,000 crore on six nuclear propelled submarines armed with nuclear-tipped missiles (SSBNs), of which only two have been completed. While such programmes are paid for over at least a decade, they would still requires the navy to pay over Rs 20,000 crore from its capital budget each year. The SSN project would load another Rs 10,000 of annual liability on the navy. Sanctioning these four projects will require the navy to more than double its capital budget, which stands at Rs 25,656 crore for this financial year.

The current budget is already stretched in paying for the 50 warships currently under construction, and for another 41 ships and 61 helicopters that are sanctioned in principle and likely to be contracted. Major capability upgrades such as IAC-2, Project 75-I, SSBNs and SSNs require significantly higher allocations, but those are not realistically forthcoming, given the sharp economic slowdown and the fact that defence modernisation already accounts for more than one-third of the central government’s overall capital budget.

Until the economic climate changes, the military, including the navy, will have to heed then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s November 2013 exhortation to “cut our coat according to our cloth.” The navy is already taking in its belt with the decision to overhaul its aging submarines – 12 of its 15 conventional submarines have already served more than a quarter century – so as to keep them in service for another decade. Steps must also be taken to fill capability gaps in other warships, such as the shortfall in torpedoes and active sonar systems. And the clear and evident shortfall of specialist ships like minesweepers and anti-submarine vessels must be filled on priority.

The navy chief has already underlined the need to focus on maximising warship capabilities instead of bemoaning the shortage of numbers. In modern warfare, better maritime domain awareness through satellites and aerial reconnaissance aircraft translates into battle-winning operational advantages. Similarly improved networking and command systems, along with more lethal on-board weaponry, allow fewer warships to deliver greater battlefield effects.

Finally, India must tighten its international maritime partnerships in fulfilling the role of being the primary “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean. Currently, the navy is overstretched with continuous anti-piracy patrols, mission-based deployments from West Asia to the Strait of Malacca and joint exercises with every major world navy. Given the magnitude of these tasks, India should harness its diplomatic goodwill to share the burden.

1 comment:

  1. IN has far better conversion rate from AoN to contracts etc compared to IAF and IA. I have been hearing of 40+ ships under construction for a decade now, with new orders as well as commissioning taking place. but we are no match and will never be a match to USN, PLAN and russians when it comes to ship manf and delivery rates.
    the PSU orders will continue through nominations irrespective of budget situation as well as the FMS contracts. the SP route and contracts with pvt sector will continue to suffer.


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