Trimming sails: the navy needs to optimise its resources - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 9 December 2020

Trimming sails: the navy needs to optimise its resources


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 9th Dec 20

The navy chief has underscored an alarming shortfall in warships and submarines, adding to the worry caused by earlier reports that the navy’s capital warships – the aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines that constitute its strike power – remain hamstrung by the absence of essential, onboard equipment, such as sonar, torpedoes and multi-role helicopters. True, the navy deserves praise for its year-round presence across the Indian Ocean and its participation in prestigious international exercises such as Malabar. However, these shortfalls mean that the navy would be painfully exposed when it graduates from peacetime exercises to actual combat. The Chief of Defence Staff may have a point when he said the navy cannot afford to buy a third aircraft carrier at this point. However, there is certainly enough money to fill the relatively small operational voids that have, for well over a decade now, rendered horrendously expensive warships unfit for war. There is also concern over the inexplicable shortages of specialist vessels such as minesweepers and anti-submarine corvettes, which are not the most expensive of assets, but are essential to safeguard the fleet. The absence of a Rs 500 crore minesweeper can lead to the sinking of a Rs 5,000 crore frigate by a Rs 500,000 sea mine. But these small, but essential, purchases continue to be stalled, endangering the fleet in numerous ways.  


Meanwhile, the navy chief’s insistence that a third aircraft carrier is essential for India – a direct contradiction of the tri-service chief’s assertion earlier this year – suggests a continuing debate over whether the navy should pursue its aim of being the “preferred security partner” in the Indian Ocean. That ambition demands a large surface fleet, including aircraft carriers, that can exercise “sea control” over a substantial ocean expanse far away through the projection of power. If, on the other hand, there is no perceived need for the navy to command the Indian Ocean, but only to prevent an adversary from doing so, that requires only a “sea denial” capability, centred on a capable submarine fleet.


Either way, the navy is well short of its target of 24 conventional submarines by 2029, along with six nuclear attack submarines in an unspecified time frame. The Scorpene submarine construction line in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) will soon be idle, after which the submarine construction expertise built over the last 15 years will start to wither away. The next six submarines, which are to be built under Project 75-I, have not even been tendered as yet. Nor has any thought been given to purposefully bringing in the private sector, even though Larsen & Toubro has displayed its ability to build nuclear submarine hulls, to deliver warship orders on time and to budget, and has also signalled its resolve and staying power by investing Rs 3,500 crore in a new warship building yard in Tamil Nadu.


At the heart of any debate on what role the navy should play and the capabilities needed to enable that is the fraught question of budgetary allocations. The navy chief complained that his budget had dwindled from 18 per cent of the overall service budget in 2012 to just 13 per cent today. However, the reality is that, with an increasingly aggressive China probing the border with India, the army’s share is likely to expand, probably at the navy’s cost. It is all the more essential, therefore, to ensure that the navy’s plans and capabilities are harmonised with a realistic assessment of resources, that expensive assets are not rendered ineffective due to avoidable shortfalls and that the full range of public and private sector capabilities are harnessed to maximum effect.

1 comment:

  1. The biggest problem in navy is lack of planning. The cost overruns are huge up to 200%.
    The ships get approved, but not weapons. The detailed engineering is always delayed by design team.
    There are too few ships of a class built, it must increase from 3 to 8.
    Critical decisions on heavy torpedoes, 127 mm gun, SAM all lagging.
    I think they can live with the budget.

    Look at coast guard , they go to pvt yard. Allow the yard to do complete engineering. The weapon systems are standardised & available.
    The ships roll out very fast.


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