Homeland Security

Peep at the Nautical Crystal Ball
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Issue Vol 23.1 Jan-Mar2008 | Date : 24 Jan , 2011

The over 314,000 ill equipped small fishing boats need Govt funding for transition to more modern, larger fishing trawlers, which should number below 30,000 and be easier to identify on the proposed MDA system. Indian ship owners need to implement new anti-piracy devices on their ships, such as “SHIPLOC” (a system, hidden in the ship, which continuously gives its position to the owner ashore) and “SHIPSECURE” (a high voltage fence which prevents entry by pirates at sea). Finally, India’s primary maritime agencies like the IN, the ICG, along with the Marine Police, Customs, and the offshore oil rigs with their supporting supply vessels, need adequate funding to be put on a simple Indian MDA grid. By 2022 the IN and ICG need to greatly increase their existing force levels and complement each other in the global fight against maritime terrorism.

The Navy has to be always prepared for its traditional conventional roles, even though, in the present days “global terrorism” environment of “no war”“no peace”, a conventional war may appear to be unlikely.

Also, given the widespread use of computers and networkcentric operations, the vulnerability of our systems to terrorists or transnational cyber attacks needs to be addressed on a war footing.

Countering Conventional Threats and Peacetime Readiness

The Navy has to be always prepared for its traditional conventional roles, even though, in the present days “global terrorism” environment of “no war–no peace”, a conventional war may appear to be unlikely. A reasonable number of sufficient “combat capable” force levels should ensure that the threat of conventional war and the threat of maritime terrorism continue to remain “unlikely”. Here too, the Navy requires urgent augmentation to its LRMP aircraft, conventional submarines and frigate strength. Since the numbers are large, some of these units could be partly acquired second hand. It is perhaps possible to acquire five to ten second hand frigates (to be used as “multi role OPVs”) for the cost of one brand new frigate.

In addition, the second submarine production line envisaged in the 30 year Submarine Building Plan, needs to be activated without further delay. A higher priority also needs to be accorded to meeting the long pending requirement of a viable Submarine Rescue System (SRS), to replace our present vintage SRS Indeed a suitable SRS, would enable the India to also offer help to other friendly regional navies (e.g., Malayasia, Singapore, Indoneasia) in case anyone of them suffers submarine accidents. It maybe noted that Japan, South Korea and Australia already have a modern SRS. A submarine accident like the Russian Navy’s loss of the entire crew on the nuclear submarine “KURSK”, a few years back, can be a national embarrasment. Many heads rolled in Russia due to the national outrage at the inability to rescue the crew, some of whom survived for a few days in the sunken submarine, before succumbing to the lack of oxygen, poisonous gases and freezing cold.

Also read: India’s quest for indegenous aircraft carrier

And finally, should the Gorshkov/ (Vikramaditya under modernisation in Russia) and the indigeneous aircraft carrier (under construction at CSL, Kochi) get further delayed, the Indian Navy may have to look at acquiring a second hand aircraft carrier, before the Viraat decommisions by about 2012. The press reported American offer of the 1961 vintage, 80,000 ton, aircraft carrier the USS Kitty Hawk, may not be a suitable option, as it will also involve inducting different types of expensive, catapult launched aircraft. In addition, a study needs to be done wrt the ability of this large ship to enter Indian ports and dry docks.

Exercising with other Navies

I am a firm supporter of exercising with all regional and important extra-regional navies, since such exercises,enhance mutual understanding and help in “building bridges of friendship across the seas”. In certain cases they enhance our warfighting skills by exposure to new platforms, equipment and concepts. In addition they improve interoperability,which would help in humanitarian disaster relief missions, or during UN sponsored peace keeping or anti-piracy or anti-terrorism operations. Here, as a major nation,on an economic upswing, India must also encourage contacts and exercises between its Navy and Coast Guard with their counterparts from China, Pakistan and Iran.

A Truly Balanced Navy

Given the massive area of operations, the likely threats during times of peace, war and “no war–no peace”, its present and planned force levels (as reported by the press), it is evident that the Indian Navy is some years away from transitioning to a balanced force which would be able to not only combat maritime terrorism piracy, etc, but also provide tactical and strategic deterrence against future threats.

The Indian Coast Guard too needs additional patrol vessels, aircraft and helicopters most urgently to augment its capability, so that it can carry out effective surveillance and monitoring of our EEZ, to counter any maritime terrorist threats, and thus free the Navy to deal with its blue water tasks.

A balanced Indian Navy, does not merely imply a force with 60 percent blue water capability. It requires capability which is relevant to the likely peacetime (terrorism and piracy) and wartime (conventional and strategic) threats. Having sufficiently discussed the peacetime threats earlier, prudence demands that we also prepare for the worst case scenario, which may involve deterring a simultaneous “two neighbour” strategic nuclear threat based on land based missiles and the Jin class SSBN (operating its second strike capability from the sanctuary of the China Sea), and a conventional threat involving Chinese Shang class SSNs operating with or independentally of a Chinese Carrier Battle Group(CBG) centered around the 70,000 to ex – Russian Carrier VARYAG, which may become operational by 2012.

The CNS, has been extensively quoted by the press and TV, during his pre Navy Day (3rd Dec 2007) press conference, as having mentioned “strategic platforms, technology demonstrators and training platforms”etc. Theoretically, the only viable strategic response, would be a ”few” indigeneous SSBNs, capable of launching, indigeneous SLBMs with ”intercontinental” range. Similarly, tactical deterrence at sea, in a vast 10 mn sq km area would require LRMP aircraft and a “few” indigeneous SSNs. A simple calculation would indicate that we cannot afford the type of Navy we need in quality and quantity, unless we take some tough decisions to make funds available for critically required items. We need to consider acquiring atleast 20 percent of our conventional requirements second hand.

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