In an interview with Raksha Anirvada, India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral R Hari Kumar, shed light on the Indian Navy’s various areas of focus such as plans for modernisation, acquisition of deck-based fighter jets for its aircraft carrier, Integrated Unmanned Roadmap, military diplomacy, multi-lateral naval exercises, mission-based deployment, capability enhancement, and security challenges in view of the ongoing flux in the geopolitical situation. Excerpts.
Q: What’s the status of the Indian Navy’s acquisition plan for deck-based fighter jets for its aircraft carrier? Can we expect the procurement deal to be finalised in December 2022 or will it extend to next year?
A: Rafale M and F/A 18 have completed the Op Demo at SBTF, Goa, in January and June this year respectively towards verifying that both aircraft meet IN requirements as well as compatibility with aircraft carriers. Staff evaluation of both aircraft is under deliberation. Post-finalisation of the selection of the aircraft, an intergovernmental procurement process would be followed in accordance with the Defence Acquisition Procedure.
Q: It has been a year since the ‘Integrated Unmanned Roadmap for the Indian Navy’ was released by Defence Minister. In what ways it has helped the Indian Navy’s plan to induct unmanned systems in all domains of maritime warfare and also benefited the industry to focus its R&D efforts to realise Atamnirbharta?
A: The Integrated Unmanned Roadmap was released by the Hon’ble Defence Minister in October. It provides a comprehensive unmanned systems roadmap in consonance with IN concept of operations and is a guiding document for capability development for unmanned systems from 2021-2030. To align the industry and requirements of the Navy, IN Vision Document for Unmanned Systems was released by the Hon’ble Prime Minister on July 18 this year during the Swavlamban seminar. This document provides details of unmanned systems that the IN envisages to induct by 2030. The focus of the document is to provide guidance as a capability development document to industry partners to synchronise their development efforts in line with the requirements of the Indian Navy. The direction, which is gleaned from this document, has resulted in increased participation of our industry partners in this domain under various Make and iDEX projects. It is envisioned that this document would serve our industry partners to achieve these aims while bolstering the overall GoI initiative of ‘AtmaNirbhar Bharat’.
Q: The year 2022 has been action-packed and eventful for the Indian Navy from military diplomacy, multi-lateral naval exercises, and mission-based deployment to capability enhancement. How would you rate the Indian Navy’s performance in 2022, and what are the key focus areas for the Indian Navy in the next two years (2023-24)?
A: The year 2022 was significant, not just for the Indian Navy, but for the entire nation, as we celebrated the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. Additionally, this year also allowed the resumption of ‘in-person’ interactions, exercises and engagements with friendly foreign navies, as the COVID-19 restrictions were gradually lifted.
As far as rating the Indian Navy’s performance is concerned, I would just say that the Indian Navy, as the primary manifestation of India’s maritime power, has and will always stand ready to fulfil its mandate to protect our national interests in the maritime domain. As a professional and committed force, the Indian Navy has taken a lead towards ensuring safety, security and stability in the region. We support a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific, wherein no country should be excluded. The IN recognises its responsibility in the region and would continue to be the pillar around which a combined ‘Force for Good’ could be built.
Coming to the focus areas for the Indian Navy in the next two years. It is aptly summarised in this year’s Navy Week theme – to remain a ‘Combat Ready, Credible, Cohesive and Future Proof’ Force. Detailed plans have been set into motion in terms of what needs to be done, how, and by whom.
By Combat Ready, the focus will remain on ensuring that our platforms, individually as well as collectively, remain capable of taking the battle to the enemy – in whatever form they may be.
Credibility is being pursued by ensuring enhanced reach – sustenance – footprint and familiarisation of our areas of interest, forward posture, as well as prompt and assured response to any situation. Our sustained Mission Based Deployments, across the vast ocean spaces, enable us to tackle any contingency – be it domestic or international – with alacrity and reliability. This is also complementary to our endeavour of being the ‘first responder’ and ‘preferred security partner’ for our friends and partners in times of need.
Our approach to being a Cohesive Force is two-pronged. Internally, we aim to remain a well-knit and motivated team through a clear-eyed focus on happy personnel – underscored by a single-minded outlook of keeping our ships, submarines, and aircraft foremost in all endeavours. Externally, our efforts are aimed at establishing and enhancing trust with stakeholders across the domestic and international canvas.
As far as being future-proof is concerned, the focus is on ‘The Long View’, by which I mean transformational changes, which will instil agility and strengthen our organisations to withstand the shocks of today, as well as those of tomorrow. It involves pole-vaulting our physical, human and conceptual capabilities.
A significant driver in pursuit of combat-readiness, credibility, cohesiveness and future-proofing will be synergy and jointness among the three Services.
Q: The Navy’s modernisation plan is well behind schedule. The Strategic Partnership (SP) model for submarines and NUH too hasn’t really taken off. The geopolitical situation and great power game at play make it imperative for India to plug the military capability gaps swiftly and be future-ready. What steps are being taken by the Indian Navy to ensure that the Navy’s modernisation plan gathers momentum and that the SP model gets initiated successfully?
A: The Navy is being modernised, in a time-bound manner, to create capabilities for accomplishing a range of missions across the entire spectrum of threats and challenges. Indian Navy has kept pace with the developing security situation in the region. Towards that, the present Force Levels are being augmented/modernised according to a laid down Long Term Perspective Plan and are undertaken in an incremental fashion continuously. Modernisation of the Navy is being driven by an undiluted focus on Combat Readiness, with ‘Ordnance on Target’ as the sole measure of combat effectiveness; and the acquisition of mission-capable platforms that fully combat capable.
The modernisation plan for the future includes the induction of aircraft carriers, ships, nuclear-powered as well as conventional submarines, and the induction of certain state-of-the-art weapons, sensors and equipment, with an adequate impetus to Unmanned Technology, AI and Robotics. Further, the development of technical and support infrastructure for the maintenance of these new inductions is also being progressed.
At present, 45 ships and submarines are under construction, out of which 43 are being built in Indian shipyards. The first indigenous aircraft carrier was commissioned on September 2 this year.
Strategic Partnership Model. IN is fully committed to the Strategic Partnership Model. The overall aim of this model is to progressively build indigenous capabilities in the private sector to Design, Develop and Manufacture complex weapon systems for the future needs of the Armed Forces. In the initial phase, Strategic Partners are being selected in the segments of Fighter Aircraft, Helicopters and Submarines wrt the Indian Navy. IN is progressing with two Capital Acquisition cases under the ‘Strategic Partnership’ Model, for 111 Naval Utility Helicopters and six Conventional submarines.
The SP Model is an important step towards meeting broader national objectives, encouraging self-reliance and aligning the defence sector with the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government for the future needs of the Armed Forces. The SP (Indian Industry) is expected to play the role of a System Integrator by building an extensive eco-system comprising development partners, specialised vendors and suppliers, in particular those from the MSME sector.
Q: The country faces tremendous security challenges along with security implications due to the ongoing flux in the geopolitical situation. You have advocated that the effective application of ‘Joint Force for Joint Effects’ across all domains is the prerequisite for winning future wars. Are we on track while adopting an integrated approach towards the development of combat capability and its application, to protect its national interests or it requires more impetus?
A: Force Planning is a complex, iterative and evolutionary process that necessitates prolonged deliberations and intensive research and analysis. The Navy’s focus has been to evolve a force structure that would be commensurate with the geopolitical, geostrategic and national security imperatives of the nation, within the scope of funding and indigenous shipbuilding capacity. The previous editions of the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP), i.e. MCPP 2005-22 and MCPP 2012-27, have served us well in not only laying down and refining the roadmap for capability enhancement but also providing due impetus to force planning. Since capability building is a continuous process, periodic review of the perspective plan is vital for providing the requisite dynamism and flexibility.
Joint Capability Development (ICADS)
With the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), HQIDS has drawn out a framework (ICADS – Integrated Capability Development System) to enhance integration in Capability Planning and achieve joint capability development. ICADS would result in the formulation of a 10-year ICDP (Integrated Capability Development Plan), which would replace the erstwhile 15-year LTIPP (Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan). The envisaged period of the plan is 2022-32 (erstwhile XIVth and XVth Plan). This process of joint capability development is evolving towards an integrated plan, which would also cater to fiscal realities, and the planning process would evolve from the National Security Strategy/Guidelines (as and when promulgated) and Raksha Mantri’s Operational Directive. Proposals for the acquisition of capital assets will cover the long-term, medium-term and short-term perspectives as under:
- Ten-year Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP).
- Five-year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP).
- Two-year Annual Acquisition Plan (AAP).
To summarise, I will say that the Armed Forces are well set in adopting an integrated approach towards developing capabilities and effective application of ‘Joint Force’. The organisational changes required for the same are being progressed as part of ongoing Theaterisation studies.
Q: The commissioning of the indigenously designed and built aircraft carrier Vikrant (IAC 1) demonstrated India’s capacity and self-reliance in building one of the most advanced and complex warships. Will the Indian Navy prioritise its plan to go for the second IAC as it’s a core component of a ‘blue water’ navy and essential for power projection far from India’s shore?
A: As a ‘Blue-water Force’, considering the vast area of operations, operational philosophy centred on sea control and growing threat in the IOR, the IN has a requirement of three operational aircraft carriers. This is also important towards sustaining our Maritime Dominance in all three geographical expanses of the Indian Ocean Region.
INS Vikrant stands testimony to our nation’s efforts towards the complete indigenisation of our Armed Forces. With this, India has become part of the elite group of nations possessing the niche capability to indigenously design and build an Aircraft Carrier. The technical expertise gained in the indigenous construction of INS Vikrant is precious and should be capitalised upon to accrue savings in terms of cost and time. Therefore, the induction of a third carrier through indigenous construction is being actively explored.
The Carrier Battle Group (CBG), of which the Aircraft Carrier is the central entity, is the means of projecting maritime power at sea and from the sea. It is a self-contained and composite force capable of undertaking an entire range of tasks, which no other platform/shore-based aircraft can undertake. The CBG is capable of providing ‘persistent air power’ in a region, at extremely short notice and has the inherent flexibility/mobility, to shift to a new theatre of operations in 48 to 72 hours. The construction of a Carrier involves a long gestation period and the expenditure incurred is spread over 15 years. In addition, the Carrier would be in service for 50-60 years. We have to take the long view in terms of what should be our national capability and global aspirations 60 years from now and not be bogged down by today’s constraints. Apart from the warfighting concepts, Aircraft Carrier can provide impetus to ‘Make in India’ & Skill India drives. The shipbuilding industry and warship acquisition have a direct impact on the economic development of a nation. This project will create extensive job opportunities, and encourage indigenous shipbuilding and business to MSMEs. The ‘Plough Back Effect’ of projects of this magnitude on the economy are highly significant.