The Indian Navy is building its capacity to be the net-centric security provider in the Indian Ocean, but presently there are some capability deficits in certain key areas, which need to be addressed urgently. The dayafter Editor In-chief Sunil Dang talks to Chief of Naval Staff Sunil Lanba and fishes out the Indian Navy and Government of India’s plans in this regard. Edited excerpts:

It has been reported in media that Indian Navy requires Utility Helicopters on an urgent basis? Please put light on the matter.

The total holding of Utility Helicopters (Chetak) in the Indian Navy inventory is depleting due to ageing of helicopters, limited support and obsolete technology resulting in poor serviceability and limited availability. These vintage helicopters are not certified for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) Flights, and hence can only be flown in fair weather and during the day, where Visual Flight Rules Flights are permitted.

The Naval Utility Helicopters being planned as a replacement for Chetak helicopters will possess the capability to operate at night and under IFR weather conditions. They would be equipped with radar surveillance capability, capable of limited armament delivery, and would possess a Self-Protection Suite to enhance operational effectiveness of the ship. The NUH, being progressed under the Strategic Partnership Model, has been accorded AON for 111 helicopter by DAC.

Are these 111 Utility helicopters enough to meet the Indian Navy’s demand?

The planned induction of 111 Naval Utility Helicopters in a phased manner from 2024-2035 through the Strategic Partnership model will be able to meet Indian Navy requirements till 2050.

How long do you think it would take for India to make considerable progress in developing underwater deterrence?

The Indian Navy has a strength of 15 submarines, which includes the nuclear-powered submarine Chakra (SSN), the 1st Kalvari class Scorpene submarine, 9 Sindhughosh class submarines and 4 Shishumar class submarines. The 2nd and 3rd Kalvari class submarine are likely to be commissioned by end 2019. While there have been delays in procurement of new generation P75(I) submarines, the submarine force levels have been maintained through life extension of our in-service submarines. Our current submarine strength provides the Indian Navy with formidable combat potential to deter any potential adversary.

Few years before the Mumbai attacks, a Coastal Security Scheme was launched in 2005 that was being handled by its border management division in two phases: Phase I from 2005 to 2011 and Phase II from 2011 to 2020. What is the progress in achieving its objectives?

The setting-up of the State Marine Police in coastal States and Union Territories by all coastal States and Union Territories, with the support of MHA through the Coastal Security Scheme, was indeed a landmark step towards strengthening coastal security. It is a fact that the timeline for implementation of second phase of the Coastal Security Scheme has extended beyond the planned period and there is still some way to go. While action on some aspects of Phase II of the scheme is now complete, or near complete, in some others the progress has been slow, but is being monitored regularly by MHA. We believe that the State Marine Police is a key element of the coastal security construct, and we would do well to retain our focus on strengthening the police in coastal States and Union Territories for their maritime role.

The government of India has been reiterating that it is committed towards the modernisation of the Indian Navy. As CNS, are you satisfied with those steps? What are the steps being taken towards the same?

The modernisation of Indian Navy is an ongoing process, which is undertaken in accordance with the Maritime Capability Perspective Pan (MCPP) as well as the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP).The Navy’s modernisation plans are aimed at inducting capabilities to effectively undertake missions across the entire spectrum of conflict.

Whilst the Navy’s modernization program is progressing smoothly, there are gaps in certain niche areas such as aircraft carrier, submarines, multi-role and utility helicopters, minesweepers and amphibious ships. The Government is seized of these issues and steps are being taken to ensure that capability shortfalls are overcome at the earliest. Presently, 34 ships and submarines are under construction for the Navy, of which 32 are being built in various Indian shipyards.

Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) has been accorded for 53 ships and six submarines. These platforms will replace the existing ships and submarines while also augmenting our force levels. Additionally, contracts have been signed for procurement of four additional P8I and 12 Dornier aircraft and 16 ALH and eight helicopters. Further, AoN for 24 Multi Role Helicopters through FMS Route and 111 Naval Utility Helicopters through Strategic Partnership Model has been accorded.

In addition, capability enhancement is also being addressed through Mid Life Upgrade (MLU), wherein vintage weapons, sensors and equipment are upgraded through requisite modifications and replaced with more contemporary systems. Procurement of new weapons, sensors and equipment including several indigenous cases under the ‘Make in India’ initiative have contributed towards efforts to maintain the ideal mix of state-of-the-art, current and vintage weapon, equipment and sensors.

The Indian Navy remains a balanced, multi-dimensional force with modern surface, sub-surface and air assets, capable of defending our national interests. The force levels will gradually increase to ensure that adequate assets, both in terms of capacity and capability, are available to meet future maritime security needs of the nation.