Military & Aerospace

Navy’s Minesweeping Capability – why the void?
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Navy’s Minesweeping Capability – why the void?, 4.6 out of 5 based on 5 ratings
Issue Net Edition | Date : 07 Apr , 2017

Water Tank Mine to destroy under water submarines found recently by Russia (location not disclosed)

In an his recent article ‘Beware the rhyme of history’ published in the Indian Express on March 24, Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff wrote, “Neither appeasement, nor empty bluster — as PM Nehru found to his cost in 1962 — will work with China. The pundits on Raisina Hill are, once again, chanting the mantra of “jang nahin hogi” (there will be no war). Should this prophecy prove correct, it will be great news for the country. But chances of it coming true will rise exponentially if India keeps its powder dry by crafting a grand strategy, by initiating urgent reform of our archaic defence structures and by reviving our comatose military-industrial complex”.

The fact is that India can never achieve its rightful place in the comity of nations without a strong military, largely equipped indigenously and defence structures reorganized to meet 21st Century challenges including the China-Pakistan dual threat.

His call is not new but unfortunately the crying reforms needed for defence structures are yet to take place and governmental defence-industrial complex which should have been largely privatized continues to remain gung-ho, albeit some movement is taking place under the ‘Make in India’ project.

Of course the Admiral also pointed out the lowest defence allocations this year – 1.6 percent of GDP. Obviously, India has failed to calibrate the right balance between economic development and security.  In this context, a former senior diplomat (name withheld) at a lunch gathering recently was of the view that if India could become an economic super power, Pakistan will move out from the shadow of China and latch on to India. Being impolite to laugh aloud, one could only suggest that some close reading of the Pakistani army was warranted. If economic might could ensure security, Japan would have never felt threatened all these years.

The fact is that India can never achieve its rightful place in the comity of nations without a strong military, largely equipped indigenously and defence structures reorganized to meet 21st Century challenges including the China-Pakistan dual threat. The need for a strong military must also be seen in the backdrop of the Indian Ocean focus given by PM Narendra Modi, which could not have been better timed. Obviously we need a strong Blue Water Navy given the geopolitical dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. But are we moving in this direction systematically?

According to media reports quoting the Parliamentary Committee for Defence, the existing fleet of six minesweeping vessels with the Indian Navy will be de-commissioned next year. The report reads, “The MCMVs (mine countermeasure vessels) are slated for de-induction by 2016-2018. 2016 has already passed and moreover, building the MCMVs will also take considerable time. The committee feels that the entire process of procurement of MCMVs will be delayed inordinately.”The Committee has asked the government to make “sincere and concerted efforts” to equip the navy with the critical capability. The worrying part now is that the Navy is likely to be without minesweeping capability till year 2011.

…considering that decommissioning of the existing six MCMVs during 2016-2018 was known in advance, why was an overlap with fresh procurements not ensured? Who in the government is accountable for this…

According to media, India could sign a Rs 32,640-crore deal with a South Korean shipyard for building 12 x mine countermeasure vessels (MCMVs) in the country by March 31, but the first of those are likely to be delivered only in 2021. But here comes the catch: first, that India “could” sign the deal by March 31, and; second, that the first delivery is “likely” by 2021.

Going by past experience, both the above “could” and “likely” perhaps will get delayed by couple of months, if not years. The big question that arises here is that with all the hype about India’s focus having shifted to the Indian Ocean, and considering that decommissioning of the existing six MCMVs during 2016-2018 was known in advance, why was an overlap with fresh procurements not ensured? Who in the government is accountable for this major faux passé in degrading operational capabilities of the Indian Navy; creating a critical void at this juncture?

Why or how did we ignore the Chinese designs on the Indian Ocean, aggressive moves by the PLA Navy (PLAN), and the China-Pakistan nexus that has adverse strategic ramifications for India? Chinese SSBNs have been crisscrossing the Indian Ocean, even in vicinity of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Chinese SSBN bases are already coming up at Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka) and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. While Hambantota to start with may well be rest and recoup stops for PLAN SSBNs, plans for their deployment along with permanent positioning of Chinese Marines at Gwadar and Djibouti have already been put in motion. Deployment of Chinese air defence resources at these ports should be expected next. Chinese SSBN docked at Karachi during May 2016 was photographed by NASA. 

According to Chinese strategists, mines are easy to lay, difficult to sweep, possess strong concealment potential, high destructive power and pose long lasting threat.  Offensive Chinese Mine Warfare strategy includes: blockading enemy bases, harbours and sea lanes; destroying enemy sea transport capability; attacking or restricting warships mobility; and crippling and exhausting enemy combat strength.

Given the Chinese doctrine of mine warfare at sea and huge mine inventory, it would be somewhat naive to believe that China will not use mines as part of hybrid warfare against us…

Chinese doctrinal textbooks say, “We must make full use of units that can force their way into enemy ports and shipping lanes to carry out mine-laying on a grand scale”.   China possesses an inventory of some 500,000 mines of multiple variety with different manufacturers and designs: C-1 to C-6 ground mines, M-1 to M-5 and EM 52 –57 ground mines, Piao 1-3 drifting mines, PMK 1 and 2 torpedo carrying mines, T-5 and Te 2-1 mobile mines and the Type 500 and Xun-1 training mines, for ships/aircraft and submarines respectively.

Our new MCMVs are reportedly to be built at Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) in collaboration with Busan-based Kangnam Corporation under the government’s Make in India initiative. Though the deal was supposed to be closed in 2016, discussions on technology transfer to India have reportedly caused delays. All 12 x MCMVs are to be constructed in India, and are expected to have 60 percent indigenous content. The construction of the first vessel is expected to begin in April 2018, and deliveries likely to be completed between 2021 and 2026.

Until now, the GSL has reportedly already spent Rs 800 crore on scaling up infrastructure to kick off construction of the minesweepers that will have a displacement of 800 to 1,000 ton; creating facilities are being created for building glass-reinforced plastic hulls, a design that reduces the ship’s magnetic signature and allows safer navigation through waters that could be mined. All this is fine but the question remains of the critical void beginning 2018 up to at least 2021, or in most likelihood even beyond.

Given the Chinese doctrine of mine warfare at sea and huge mine inventory, it would be somewhat naive to believe that China will not use mines as part of hybrid warfare against us especially knowing that mine warfare at sea continues to remain one of the most neglected disciplines in India. What grave implications this has for our Navy (vessels and submarines), harbours and offshore installations should cause the government to sit up. Can’t we ensure there is no gap in our minesweeping capability?

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Navy’s Minesweeping Capability – why the void?, 4.6 out of 5 based on 5 ratings
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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4 thoughts on “Navy’s Minesweeping Capability – why the void?

  1. This guy has lost his marbles completely and become a perpetual whiner. Most of his articles on various forums are regurgitation of same stale arguments. The government is not doing anything, defence budget portion is low, military is being ignored or insulted and things are not moving. Every bloody article has this same tune, week by week.

    I wonder whether he ever reads anything new or tries to introduce some reasoning and insight into his writings!!! He could have written best articles on special forces because that’s his focus area. Instead, every time he just WHINES !!!

    So predictable !!!! Pathetic !!!!

  2. An excellent exposition—- let us wake up before it is too late. Combat capabilities take awfully long to attain. This serious deficiency alongwith our depleting submarine fleet must be set right.

  3. I am afraid the respected General has been gullible in swallowing Modi’s slogan when he writes “… albeit some movement is taking place under the ‘Make in India’ project”. First to note that in the long past for the Air Force a state-of-the-art of the time interceptor Gnat was being manufactured in the country. So Modi’s ‘Make in India’ is to be taken with a pinch of salt as a political cliché, empty rhetoric for the uninformed masses. And I do not know where the General gets the idea of “governmental defence-industrial complex which should have been largely privatized” as if privatisation will solve the problem for the armed forces to get their military hardware. Even in the US huge amount of military related research is generated in their academic institutions and national laboratories. And without acquiring real research expertise in related fields no one could design and test military hardware for their applicability. And there lies the fundamental structural problem in the Indian nation. How much are the scientific people rewarded in life by salary and perks in comparison to other professions such as administrative services (IAS) or financial sectors (banking …) – there is gross imbalance. The career prospects for younger generation in science and technology is dismal compared to other fields. You get what you pay for, no wonder the military gets poor products from indigenous centers. This is the structural problem Modi has failed to absorb for redressing fundamental issue involving economics. Until corrective measures are applied for investing the nation’s resources in the right direction for not only the military, the future will always remain bleak for the forces to get their hardware from indigenous sources.

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