Navy Chief says commissioning of INS Vikrant was highlight of self-reliance
Ahead of the press conference at the majestic Kota House in December, the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Hari Kumar received the 1,500-km ‘35 day, 35 marathons’ running expedition, which was flagged off on October 30 from Delhi. The expedition through Delhi, Haryana and Chandigarh was undertaken by marathon and ultra-marathon runners of the navy to foster maritime consciousness among the youth. After the flag-in, Admiral Kumar said the marathon also sought to promote the Agnipath scheme. Badminton player P.V. Sindhu was in attendance at the event.
In the press conference which followed, the Navy Chief recounted the events in the past year since he took charge as the navy’s top man. He said, “Operationally, we have had a very intense, engaging time over the last one year. Ships and submarines have been deployed extensively and they have contributed substantially to maintaining maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region.”
He said a very high operational tempo was achieved over the last one year and that the navy followed mission-based deployments with ships being deployed at various strategic locations in the ocean so that they are forward based and ready to respond to challenges. He added that this extensive operational deployment helped the force in numerous ways. “It has helped us to hone our skills and improve and refine our procedures and processes and, in a sense, to keep the sword sharp,” he said.
Admiral Kumar termed the past year as ‘operationally busy, satisfying and transformational.’ He said the most notable aspect of transformation was the commissioning of INS Vikrant on September 2 and that it was a landmark event which signified the persistent efforts of generations of naval leadership, designers, planners, shipyard-workers and industry among others. He called the event a highlight of Atmanirbharta. There are very few countries who have the capability to make an aircraft carrier and India is now one among the few countries. “Vikrant will proudly fly the Tiranga across the wide reaches of the Indo-Pacific in the years to come,” he said.
Speaking about the new naval ensign, which was unveiled during the commissioning of INS Vikrant, he said, “This was in line with the government policy of shedding the vestiges of colonial symbols and practices. It was designed by one of our sailors and this was worked upon, improved and promulgated. The decision to change the ensign was done in a very swift and decisive manner without delay and it reflects the agility and responsiveness of the navy as an organisation.” On Independence Day, seven of the navy’s ships hoisted the Tiranga at ports in six continents, which is no mean feat. The Navy Chief said this aspect reflected the reach, flexibility and sustainability of the naval assets in the areas of interest.
On the navy’s share of the budget, Admiral Kumar said 17.8 per cent was ‘quite adequate.’ He said the navy managed to spend the budget well in the revenue to capital ratio. Elaborating on this, he said this ratio has been maintained at about 32 per cent revenue to 68 per cent capital. This helps the navy in ensuring that the force has adequate funding for capital projects. According to him, this gives the navy “tremendous amount of flexibility” in looking at new cases and taking forward new capability development plans.
Terming the Agnipath scheme as another transformation, he said: “We are looking at a complete transformation of the manpower, especially in the ranks. The first batch of Agniveers have already reported, about 3,000 Agniveers have joined out of which 341 are women. This is a landmark event for us because this is the first time that the navy is inducting women sailors.” The navy has been inducting women officers for nearly 17 years. He added, “From next year, we are looking at women officers being inducted across all branches and not just the 7-8 branches that they are restricted to as of today.” Earlier in October the navy had notified opening of many seagoing branches, cadres and specialisations, including special forces, diving and hydrography to women. As part of the Agnipath scheme, the navy is inducting women sailors who are now eligible for entry into 29 trades.
The commissioning of a new squadron of long-range maritime patrol aircraft—the P8I—and two squadrons of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) as well as the induction of the MH60-R helicopters have been notable capability enhancers. With the launch of Surat, Udaygiri, Dunagiri, Taragiri, Nistar, Nipun, Nirdeshak, Ikshak and Mormugao along with the trials of Vagir and Vagshir, the navy’s force levels are poised for a ‘significant fillip.’
Last year, the navy pursued credibility through enhanced reach, sustenance, deployment and forward posturing all of which enabled the force to be the first responder. To further strengthen information exchange, the navy has obtained sanction for the National Maritime Domain Awareness (NMDA), which aims to integrate and share information among seven government of India ministries and more than 15 other agencies.
All 29 ships and submarines commissioned into the navy over the last seven years have been built in India. Of the 45 ships and submarines currently under construction, 43 are being built at Indian shipyards and these include the P15 Bravo destroyers and the P17 Alpha stealth frigates. Admiral Kumar outlined how the navy was moving towards Aatmanirbharta. He said the navy had achieved 95 per cent indigenisation of the float component, 60-65 per cent of the move component and 50 per cent of the fight component. He said the navy would be able to achieve Aatmanirbharta by 2047.
Regarding IAC-II, he said the navy had put it on hold as INS Vikrant had just been commissioned. “We are examining whether we should look at a repeat order of IAC-I instead of going in for IAC-II to capitalise on the expertise available in the country and how we can plough back into the economy. All this, however, is at a discussion stage and we have not yet taken it to the government.”
Regarding the fighters, he said, “as far as deck-based fighters are concerned, the twin-engine fighter programme will come in only by 2032 and beyond. There is a gap now because the MiG-29Ks are limited in number and not much supply is forthcoming. Therefore, we are looking at an interim solution. Two deck-based fighters are suitable and trials of the Rafale maritime version as well as the F/A-18 Hornets are going on. The OEMs have submitted the trial reports and they are under evaluation and thereafter we will take a call as to what is in our best interest.”
Speaking about Chinese ships operating in the Indian Ocean region, he said: “Four to six People’s Liberation Army-Navy ships are in operation besides research and fishing vessels. As the resident maritime power in the Indian Ocean region, we keep a close watch all the developments. There are also other extra regional forces present here. More than 60 extra regional forces are always present given the large amount of trade and energy flowing through the region. Our job as a navy is to see that India’s interests are protected and so we keep a close watch and track them and we see that they do not undertake activities that are inimical to our interests.”
Talking about the Quad, he said it was a coming together of democracies which have similar values and interests. The grouping ensures they benefit from close cooperation and exchange of ideas and capabilities. “We look at various aspects such as combating, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Quad is not an alliance or military treaty,” the Navy Chief said.