Admiral Sunil Lanba said that India was keeping a close eye on all regional maritime developments and had no reason to be overly concerned. Admiral Sunil Lanba said the navy is focused on achieving an ideal balance between the available budget and modernisation plans through indigenisation and prioritisation

From challenges in the Indian Ocean and modernisation hurdles to realignment of forces and status of pending military pacts with the US, navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba spoke to Rahul Singh in an interview on a range of issues in the navy. Excerpts:

How does the navy propose to counter China’s growing presence in Indian Ocean Region?

Let me dispel the notion that presence of extra-regional maritime forces in international waters is an existential threat in itself. There are warships of various nations that transit through the ocean. We constantly evaluate security environment in our areas of interest to manage deployments. Enhanced domain awareness through mission-based deployments and information-sharing with our maritime partners has emerged as one of the cornerstones of our security strategy.

Is the Chinese military footprint in IOR denting India’s influence?

With critical trade routes flowing through this region, the significance of IOR for global economic development needs no emphasis. We have always shown respect for the principles of international law and would never question legitimate use of the seas. However, concerns are being raised from several quarters about the intent of Chinese military movements.

Any concerns about the rapid expansion of the Chinese fleet?

Every country pursues its modernisation plans based on its own threat assessment. I would like to believe that the expansion of Chinese navy is also based on such an assessment. We, too, undertake periodic assessments of our maritime security environment and, accordingly, re-calibrate our plans and operational philosophy. While we keep a close eye on all regional maritime developments, we have no reason to be overly concerned.

How has the mission-based deployment of combat-ready warships changed things in IOR?

We have realigned our deployments based on our assessment of the maritime security environment, and this is an ongoing process. The new operational philosophy allows us to deploy mission-ready ships along critical maritime routes, enhancing our strategic domain awareness.

How does the navy plan to strike a balance between a limited budget and meeting its modernisation goals?

Our modernisation plans are well on track. There are concerns regarding capital allocation, particularly for modernisation, which are being addressed (in consultation) with all stakeholders. The navy is focused on achieving an ideal balance between the available budget and our modernisation plans through indigenisation and prioritisation.

Can you give an update on projects such as the indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), carrier-borne fighters and new helicopters?

The navy has been pioneering indigenisation since the 1960s. Since most of the platforms you mentioned are being pursued through the indigenous route, certain unique challenges are bound to be encountered. I am confident these are surmountable. We are planning to commence sea trials of the IAC in 2020. We are also examining the design of IAC-2. We are confident that the induction of aviation assets would be in sync with the induction of the carrier.

What is the status of pending agreements proposed by the US – Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement? How is Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement being implemented?

India and the US are in regular dialogue on these agreements. The navy is examining various provisions and the specific utility of various services they would facilitate. Since the issue is under deliberation, we will take a call once all the modalities have been examined. Standard operating procedures for the implementation of LEMOA are being formulated. The agreement will allow the navy to extend and consolidate its operational reach in our areas of interest.