Defence Modernisation – Naval Aspects

Achievements and Aspirations for the Future Modern Indian Navy

Technology is known to gallop, and therefore ‘Defence Modernisation’ is a continuous activity for any military, and is critical for the Nation’s Security. Every Head  of  a service is required to  ensure that his or her  arm  is ready to deter an enemy, and if needed defeat the enemy in war, whose  capabilities  have been studied and intentions gauged by a joint study of threats, so that  the plans for  modernisation can be  put to the Government. These requirements are tabled with the futuristic acquisitions, in the long and short term perspective plans (LTPP). In India, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) takes on the projects if it has the ability.

The Navy updates its plans  from time to time to keep modern and abreast  and  has issued two  unclassified documents titled, India’s  Maritime Security  Strategy and Indian  Naval Doctrine, as books of reference to assist planners in uniform and officials  in the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and others. The Navy  has also chalked out a classified perspective long term plan of ships and weapons with a target of 250  ships and submarines  and 400 aerial platforms by around 2027, from the current 137 ships and submarines and 200 aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In the present turbulent scenario, India’s military is expected to be prepared for a two front war and also has to combat terrorism from across the border and from air and sea.  India’s ground, air and naval forces have to be kept modern with up-to-date weaponry, training, spares support and adequate War Wastage Reserves (WWRs), in line with the Operational Directive issued by the Minister of Defence from time to time, which specifies the time lines for preparations, and expected duration of war. The nuclear doctrine for India which has a, ‘No First Use Clause’ is separate. The War Book lists the actions by all departments of the state. A classified Red Book, is required  to give the nuclear guidelines, and all nuclear forces are under the Strategic Force Commander (SFC)  who is administratively under the rotating Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC),  but  overseen by  the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister in PMO.

A modern military needs a capable manufacturing base in the country. Victories  have been snatched away with heavy national losses  because of lack of modernisation,  or lack of  war wastage reserves (WWRs)  and this message is not easy to send down to the Indian establishment where the national  priorities are geared to eradicate poverty,  dubbed as the ‘Guns Versus Butter Versus Textbooks vs. Health’ debate. Yet it is the duty of the Sovereign to ensure its forces are kept modernised for contingencies they may have to face, and this duty is even quoted in Chanakya’s Athshastra. In India the Defence budgets have been below 2% of the GDP so all modernisation suffers but Navy has kept pace with self-help, and make in India.

At this stage it would be proper to state that a Navy is a capital intensive service as it is three dimensional, and ships, submarines and aircraft cost a lot and ship building and upgrading a platform is time consuming. Hence separate maintenance facilities have to be set up unless a tri-service approach is taken up for cost cutting, at the inception of a programme. It takes few years to build a ship and the Indian Navy has strived from day one to construct ships in India and maintained a fairly modern profile listed in this article, and this has got something to do with its history at its birth which needs to be recounted, before any study of the modernisation aspects of the Indian Navy can be discussed.

India’s Navy began as the Honourable East India Company’s Marine on 5th Sept, 1612 at Surat, and by the 19th century British expanded their maritime headquarters in Bombay and Calcutta. It became the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) on 2nd October 1934 at Bombay and swift recruitment began for war. By 1945, RIN’s strength had multiplied fifteen times to 2,438 officers, 214 Petty Officers and 21,193 ratings now called sailors, with 14 bases and a Training/Air base on Cochin’s Willingdon Island for the Fleet Air Arm, from where the US Air Force also operated. In 1947 with partition it became a small Navy of seven large sloops and thirty seven small craft as one third went to Pakistan but it was a war experienced Navy, and became the Indian Navy in 1950.

Navy’s ships are ‘operated and maintained’ by the Ship’s Company, unlike the Army where mainly corps of Electronic and Mechanical Engineers (EME) maintains and in IAF, pilots fight and the maintainers are ground based. On warships all sail and sink together, so skills to keep the machinery and drills in top shape and modern, is everybody’s everyday business. It makes the Indian Navy forward looking with international exposure which has paid dividends. It is this self-help tradition of 700 officers and 4000 sailors of the Royal Indian Navy who spent months and years from 1948 to 1960 in British dockyards, shipbuilding yards in the UK, to bring back 22 ships which Included the then contemporary cruisers HMIS Delhi (HMS Achilles 1948) and INS Mysore (ex HMS Gambia 1958) and aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (ex HMS Hercules 1961), to remain a modern Navy as it expanded.

By 1970s Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL now MSDL) had built the modern Leanders led by INS Niligiri with modern 4.5 inch guns, Signaal radars (now Thales), Sea Cat missiles and UA8/9  EW systems and Grasby sonars. The Indian Navy also received Soviet ships, missile boats, aircraft and submarines from 1965 from the Soviet Union where some 300 officers and 3000 sailors spent months and years standing by ships and acquired ship fitting skills.

The Indian Navy is the only one of the Indian armed forces that has been able to keep pace with advancing technology and even has a flourishing indigenous technology base for building world-class, state-of-the-art ships and submarines that is the envy of the world. Starting with Nilgiri and then the Godavari Class, the navy has moved rapidly ahead with the induction of the home built Delhi, Brahmaputra, Kolkata, Shivalik and Kamorta classes of ships, with  the successful integration of the 300  km supersonic BrahMos cruise missile into the Navy’s armoury. Soon the reality of the new aircraft carrier INS Vikrant from Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) will be a welcome addition with two long range Italian Selex 40 L air search and Israeli M/F Star multi function active phased array radars, and this after the nuclear submarine INS Arihant was commissioned. Indian Navy became the sixth Navy in the world to master nuclear propulsion.

The Navy’s air arm is world class with the carrier INS Vikramaditya with Mig-29Ks and the  8 delivered plus 4 Maritime Patrol 737 Boeing P8I planes, as potent  Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) platforms  with attack capabilities with MK 84 Harpoon missiles and Mk 48 Torpedoes.  The Mig-29K has 9 hard points - 4 each on the wings and a centerline station for VT/buddy refueling pod. The four inner hard points can be used for all weapons and fuel tanks while the outer ones are for air to air weapons and the ASPJ Jammer. The weapons include RVV-AE BVR missiles, R-73 missiles and Khs-35 Uran air to surface anti-ship missiles besides the standard range of bombs and an internal GShSh 30mm cannon on the port side above the wing root.

Any modernisation program is always geared for the future and it involves selection of weaponry for older platforms, budgeting and production of equipment as far as possible within the country so that it is not dependent on foreign imports, more than it is necessary. With the advent of a Nuclear Triad for India, the modernisation of India’s Navy with costly indigenous nuclear propelled submarines (6,700 ton Arihant class) with nuclear armed underwater launched missiles (K-15/B-05 ranged 750 km and later K-4 ranged 2500km) for deterrence, have been successfully delivered by DRDO and BARC, under Naval supervision in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Larsen & Toubro Ltd (L&T). It has been an expensive and technologically challenging proposition but the Indian Navy has navigated the challenge well.

The Indian Navy has moved more swiftly than the other two services. The Navy constructs all its ships in India so hulls are fully indigenous in the float sector and the Naval Design Directorate ensures they are modern and suited for latest weapon fits. The command systems have been indigenised by the forward looking Weapons and Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment (WESEE) which has assisted Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), to supply navigation and Revati surveillance radars, the Command and Communications  CCS MK II system,  the Ellora and Ajanta EW suites and  latest sonars of the HUMSA and USHUS panoramic display  family developed by the Kochi-based NPOL, a naval laboratory  of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Latest towed sonars (ACTAS) are being procured from Atlas Electronix Ltd and also being indigenised. The WESEE and BEL and private suppliers of modems, has also space networked the Navy with its NavNet and ISRO’s GSAT 7A communication and data satellite Rukmini by fitting Israeli terminals (Rukmani) from Orbit Technologies on major ships, and BEL Link 2 on smaller ships. These modern command and control fitments enable Indian Navy to keep pace with the US, British, French and  Russian Navies in Exercise Malabars, Konkan, Varuna, and Indira respectively. In Exercise Malabar the US Navy loans the CENTRIX system with observers for common communication and plot pictures, in real time.

The Navy’s gas turbines on the Shivalik and Kamorta class and Vikrant are the LM-2500 from GE USA, supplied from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and hence can be upgraded. Ukraine’s Zorya-Mashproyekt supplied gas turbines as prime movers on Type15/A/B destroyers, but all diesel and steam engines are collaborated in India with world class companies, as also support machinery like latest pumps and generators and manufactured in India.

During long refits of ships, new weapons and equipment is fitted. The Rajput Kashin class ships removed the P-20 and Volna-Pechora for BrahMos SSMs and Barak-1 AA missiles and new radars were fitted. All new ships are being fitted with the  M/F Star E/LM 2248 Israeli Elta supplied multi beam radars,  and the Shivalik class with Anti Missile Direction Indicator (AMDI) E/LM 2242 radars  for guiding Barak-1 AA missiles. The Navy has upgraded the Barak 1- to Barak-8 type long range surface-to-air missiles (LRSAM) by DRDO and Rafael of Israel in Hyderabad, India, which IAF has also adapted in its  modernisation with longer range with a booster.

On the submarine front 150 officers and many sailors who went to Kiel and Lubeck and trained at Professor Gabler’s Submarine Design Institute to standby for the HDW-1500 submarines and others to Russia for the Kilo class submarines in the 1980s. They rose to the helm. With their experience the Naval Dockyards have modernised the old boats with USHUS sonars, Altas command systems and Harpoon missiles are being retrofitted on the HDW-1500 in India. All the Kilo boats have underwater launched KLUB missile, but still go to Russia for long refit and modernisation. The first state of the art conventional Scorpene submarine INS Kalvari with SUBTICs Command and Control and SM-39 Exocet missiles has been inducted in to service and 5 more will follow, one every year, to modersnise the aging submarine fleet.

The list of the Navy’s design and maintenance organisations that support modernisation of platforms are INS Eskila Gas Turbine Repair Establishment (GTRE), the Defence Machinery Development Establishment (DMDE) at Hyderabad,  the Ship Building Centre (SBC) in the Naval Dockyard section of Vishakapatanam, the Submarine Design Group (SDG), the Director General Naval Design (DGND), the Prototype Training Centre (PTC), Ship Machinery Test Centre (MTC ) and Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV ) HQs now called Akashanka (hope).

In the future plan the Navy will have 6 SSN submarines, 4 landing platform deck (LPDs), 7 Type 17A modern Shivalik class frigates with BrahMos missiles and 8 Mine Counter Measures Vessels (MCMVs). The need for a modern Navy is to have multi role helicopters which are essential for modern ships and UAVs to augment the Searcher and Herons in the Navy. But among the most significant fact in the modernisation effort of India’s Navy, lies in  the indigenous  naval ship-building and fitting of weapons as the  biggest success-story of  Make in India plans, and  designing and manufacturing the ships and an  aircraft carrier to nuclear and conventional submarines.

(Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd.) is a former DNI and DNO, a naval analyst and author of The Modern and Future Indian Navy. ISBN (978-0-9932898-6-6)…Variety Book Depot.)

(This article is carried in the print edition of September-October 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

Comments are closed.