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Opting for indigenous methods is the way forward for the Indian Navy

Cmde Anil Jai SinghCmde Anil Jai Singh (retd)

‘…no man seeth the piston,
But it driveth the ship none-the-less’

These words from Admiral Hopwood’s unwritten ‘Laws of the Navy’ and familiar to all those who have gone to sea very aptly encapsulate the importance of propulsion systems on board warships but rarely get the attention they deserve vis-à-vis the more glamorous and visible weapons and sensors bristling on the upper decks. Therefore, while much is spoken and written about India’s woeful levels of indigenisation in weapons and sensors and consequent vulnerability due to this dependence on imports, very little is heard about the equally abysmal state in an equally significant part of ship – its propulsion systems.

The INS Mormugao, a stealth guided-missile destroyer of the Indian Navy floats post launch at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited, Mumbai

Indigenisation on board Indian Navy (IN) warships is often classified under the triumvirate of ‘Float’, ‘Move’ and ‘Fight’. ‘Float’ refers primarily to the hull and other external outfitting which enables a ship to float. With all Indian warships and submarines now being built in Indian shipyards, an impressive level of about 90 per cent indigenisation has been achieved in this segment of ship construction.

The ‘Move’ element, as the name suggests, pertains to those portions of the ship that are essential for it to move at sea. This includes the main propulsion system, the power generation and distribution network, all auxiliary systems on board including firefighting, alternators, other electrical equipment, control systems, ventilation and air conditioning etc. The ship’s hydraulics, pneumatics, pumps etc are also part of this. Indigenisation in ‘Move’ is currently estimated at about 60 per cent and will be the focus of this article.

The ‘Fight’ element pertains to the portion of the ship which delivers kinetic effect and comprises primarily the weapon and sensor package. The reliance on imported systems and the inability of the Indian defence industrial establishment to develop contemporary technologies has led to an unhealthy dependence on imports for almost 70 per cent of the requirement.

The IN is justifiably proud of its long-standing commitment to indigenisation and its successful transition from being a ‘buyer’ navy to a ‘builder’ navy with all the 40-odd ships and submarines on order being built in Indian shipyards. This in itself is no mean achievement. The navy is also very conscious that its dependence on imports in critical areas is a serious strategic vulnerability and is therefore constantly endeavouring to mitigate this by encouraging indigenisation, even though 100 per cent self-reliance may still be some distance away. This, however, does not in any way detract from the navy’s stellar efforts towards achieving this goal and should, in fact, act as a catalyst in accelerating a concerted national effort duly supported at the highest levels of government. The ‘Make in India’ initiative launched by the Prime Minister in August 2014 with defence as one of the key sectors should have been the launch pad for this but the report card four years down the line is not very encouraging.

The IN presently has about 136 ships and submarines in commission with an aspiration to be a 200-ship navy by 2027. Given the attrition rate due to decommissioning of the older platforms, this would broadly mean that in the next decade the IN will commission about 80-90 ships of various sizes including a substantial number of major surface combatants. In addition, the Indian Coast Guard, which also has an ambitious ship building programme, will be adding considerable numbers to its fleet and these too will be built in Indian shipyards, both in the public and private sectors. All of these platforms will need propulsion plants of various types and sizes depending on their design, configuration, roles and displacement. This offers Indian industry sufficient volumes to make the necessary investment, financial and otherwise, to meet the requirements.

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