When Rear Admiral Ganeshan spoke to me about a seminar on Warship Building a few weeks ago, I conveyed the Navy’s wholehearted approval and support because I am convinced that we must open the windows of our mind to new ideas, and undertake serious introspection, if we are to improve our performance. I was, therefore, privileged and delighted to be there to share some thoughts with a very distinguished audience, where all the luminaries of the ship building industry were present.
It is an often overlooked fact that India’s maritime tradition goes back to a few millennia before the Christian era. Out west coast has historically seen intense trade and commercial activity being undertaken by sea, with the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and the east African littoral. From the east coast, successive dynasties which ruled peninsular India up to the 12th century AD, sent waves of adventurous seafarers to spread Indian culture and civilisation to south-east Asia where it is very much in evidence even to this day.
A maritime tradition can only survive on a sound ship-building industry, and here we need to remind ourselves that we are the proud inheritors of the world’s oldest dry dock built during the Harappan period circa 2400 BC in Lothal, Gujarat. While the ancient dhow-building tradition of our west coast ensured that Indian vessels were ubiquitous in the Indian Ocean, many generations of the Wadia family of master ship-builders sent Bombay-built sloops, schooners, merchantmen, and men of’ war sailing the seven seas.
Today, India’s economic resurgence is directly linked to her dependence on trade and commerce, most of which is conducted by sea. It is vital, not just for India’s security but also for her continued prosperity, that we possess a Navy which will protect the nation’s vast and varied maritime interests. The Navy’s role is to help maintain peace in the Indian Ocean, meet the expectations of our friends and neighbours in times of need, and underpin India’s status as a regional power.
Whenever an Indian-built warship sails into a foreign port today, it receives looks of admiration, not unmixed with surprise that a third world industry is capable of such sophistication. We are fortunate that the seeds of a self-reliant blue-water Navy were laid by our far-sighted predecessors when they embarked on the brave venture of undertaking modem warship construction in this country four decades ago. We certainly need to acknowledge that our shipyards have done us proud by delivering 85 warships to the Navy in this period.
The first Leander class frigate was built under licence in Mazagon Docks Ltd., in 1972. The basic hull form has thereafter been stretched, broadened, re-designed and rearmed by our ingenuous naval architects, and eleven ships later we have seen the progressive metamorphosis of INS Nilgiri into INS Beas commissioned last year. Armed with a hybrid and eclectic weapon suite, this frigate is arguably one of the most unique and powerful warships in her class today.