Navy's modern dreams set sail
Gautam Datt | Mail Today | New Delhi, December 4, 2013 | UPDATED 09:04 IST
As the custodians of the country's maritime security break into celebrations to mark the Navy Day on December 4, far away in the Russian north new aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya has embarked on the much awaited journey under the Indian flag to join the naval fleet hopefully in another four to six weeks.
The arrival of Vikramaditya will be the dawn of a new era in the Navy's capabilities as the lethargic process of Navy's ambitious modernisation plan has finally begun to fall in place.
The Navy went strategic with induction of Russian nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra, leased from Russia for 10 years. After initial hiccups, it is now operating smoothly. This year India's own effort in developing ballistic missile submarine Arihant received a major boost when its reactor went critical paving the way for sea trials that are likely to commence soon.
Navy's dwindling aviation arm acquired crucial capabilities in the form of long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft P-8Is. A new squadron of mighty MiG-29Ks, the first naval fighters after the Sea Harriers, became operational and the jets would soon be landing and taking-off from Vikramaditya. The Navy now has its own Hawk advanced jet trainers and its key anti-submarine operation helicopter Kamov-28 is cleared for the much-needed upgradation.
Along with progress on the aviation front, Navy's surface fleet was also augmented with induction of an array of new warships.
The old order of carrier battle group (CBG) centered around INS Virat - which is running on an extended life - with components of Ganga, Leander and Delhi class ships is fading.
Vikramaditya will form the new CBG with modern Shivalik and Teg class stealth frigates and new tankers. Forthcoming Kolkata class warships will add the extra punch. By the time Vikramaditya is firmly settled in its role as the leading surface platform sometime next year, India's home-made aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which has been partially completed, would be made available after 2020, if realistic deadline is taken into account.
In the sub-surface domain, the beleaguered programme to build six French Scorpene submarines is said to be heading for final finish after painful delays. The latest update is that all the six of these submarines will now be inducted by 2021. Navy has taken the lead in this respect with the launch of GSAT-7 communication satellite, the first dedicated military asset in the space.
In terms of immediate additions, Navy's shore-based test facility for practicing carrier operations for its fighter jets is expected to start this month.
The future indeed looks busy but the Navy is battling with serious deficiencies that are impacting operations in a big way.
Admiral D K Joshi
Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi
The depleting submarine fleet has been a reason of big headache and accident of INS Sindhurakshak, which was one of the few boats fully operational, added to the woes. Navy is desperately look up to the defence ministry to launch construction of six new submarines under project 75 India but no headway has been made.
Navy's helicopter fleet is critically low and it has come to a situation where its shining pieces of modern warships look depleted without helicopter support.
The worse aspect of the crisis is that there is no movement in sight to replenish the fleet because of sluggish acquisition process.
Further adding to the woes is bombshell dropped by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by asking the armed forces to curb expenses because of economic downturn.
With the modernisation process remaining unfinished, the question being asked is where to drop the anchor?
The question needs to be answered early considering the fast changing security dynamics in the region. With the Asia-Pacific emerging as the centre of activities, Indian Navy's stated area of interest from the Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Strait is going to be extended up to the South China Sea just as China is making forays into the Indian Ocean to safeguard its economic interests.
DRDO fancies its firepower
The DRDO scientists are hopeful that they would be able to add considerably to the army's firepower in the coming years, be it development of Future Main Battle Tank Arjun, a "desi" Bofors or bi-modular charge systems.
The DRDO is satisfied with the progress on the project to mount 130mm guns of old Vijayanta tanks on the new Arjun tanks. Sources said the 40 Arjun catapults ordered by the army as part of this project should be ready in a few months. The army's confidence in the Arjun chassis led to the project fructifying.
The next indigenous push is in the induction of 155mm artillery. Along with army's request of proposal for the 155mm 52 calibre guns, the DRDO has launched a parallel development programme for the same. It is hopeful of developing the gun well before time. The progress on building 155mm 39 calibre Bofors guns at home is on track, though scientists admit that it should have been taken up earlier as the designs were available for several years.
Another major bottleneck has been the production of bi-modular charges for the artillery guns. The programme to produce this ammunition in India has been doomed. The first tie-up to produce bi-modular charge systems was made with Denel of South Africa but the company got blacklisted on charges of corruption. Sources said the production is going to start soon.
THE appointment of General Raheel Sharif as the new army chief of Pakistan had surprised Indian military establishment. According to Indian Army's internal assessment, General Rashad Mahmood was the likely successor of Kayani. But Mahmood went on to become chairman chiefs of staff committee. The army is not going by the tag of "moderate" given to General Sharif by the media to measure the new Pakistani army chief. When it comes to dealing with India, all are alike, said an officer, adding only time will tell if there is any change in Pakistan Army position.
Browne's had highs and lows
IAF chief NAK Browne is hanging up his uniform on December 31, ending his tenure which had its own share of highs and lows. The IAF earned accolades from across the country for the gigantic humanitarian efforts, particularly to bring relief in Uttarakhand that was devastated by floods. His tenure also saw IAF sorting out its training woes to an extent by inducting Swiss Pilatus PC 7 basic trainers on which rookie pilots started getting their first flying lessons.
IAF chief N A K Browne
IAF chief N A K Browne
Browne's term saw one of the lowest phases as well when the acquisition of 12 VVIP helicopters from Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland came under corruption scanner and for the first time a former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, was named in an FIR by the CBI on charges of receiving kickbacks. The IAF ran into the defence ministry's wall when it came to major acquisition programmes and its relations with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited deteriorated considerably.
The IAF leadership strongly indicated the need to break the arrangement of over dependence on HAL for meeting its requirements. The IAF rejected HAL's proposal to build a new basic trainer HTT-40 and asked the defence ministry to buy more Swiss Pilatus instead.
Losing confidence in the abilities of HAL is also one of the reasons for the stalemate over finalisation of the mega contract for the purchase of 126 French Rafale multi-role combat jets. The IAF and the defence ministry are again at odds over the acquisition of new aircraft to replacing the ageing fleet of Avros. The issue is unlikely to be resolved soon despite the cry from the private industry.
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