The Bidders Had Raised Certain Concerns on Some Clauses of the (P-75I) RFP and the Same Have Been Resolved by Minor Changes to the RFP
Though INS Vikrant has been inducted, it seems that it will be a while before its full operational exploitation. Can you give an update and expected timelines for the procurement of naval helicopters and the second line of Carrier-based fighter?
The case for procurement of six Kamov 31 AEW helicopters as repeat order from JSC RoE is being progressed by Indian Navy. Notwithstanding, Indian Navy is exploring the indigenous option to meet immediate requirement in the domain on AEW helicopters. As a long-term measure, AEW variant has been included in the design and development of Deck Based Multi Role Helicopters (DBMRH) expected to realise in 10-12 years of initiation of D&D process.
Design and development of DBMRH is expected to take about seven to eight years to enable production of the helicopter commencing from ninth year of project sanction. Indian Navy has initiated design and development of 60 Utility Helicopter-Maritime (UH-M) with HAL. Post accord of approval of necessity, the delivery of the helicopters is being targeted to commence 2026 onwards.
Rafale M and F/A 18 have completed the operational demonstration at shore-based test facility (SBTF) Goa in January 2022 and June 2022 respectively towards verifying that the aircraft meet Indian Navy requirements as well as compatibility with aircraft carriers. Staff evaluation of both the aircraft is under deliberation. Post finalisation of the selection of the aircraft, an intergovernmental procurement process would be followed in accordance with the Defence Acquisition Procedure.
You spoke of Unmanned Systems Roadmap last year. What has been achieved in these areas since then?
Unmanned domain is a niche technology, and our industry is building their expertise in this domain. Any short-term tangible goals would be too demanding. Therefore, the focus of rolling out such document is to develop indigenous technology that would sustain our long-term goals. As far as last one year is concerned, the direction which is gleaned from this document has resulted in an increased participation of our industry partners in this domain under numerous Make and iDEX projects, which include various technologies for unmanned solutions. In next one year, we are expecting that we would achieve considerable head way in this direction.
How does China’s Belt Road Initiative (BRI) affect Indian Navy’s outreach in the IOR as the Preferred Security Partner?
Indian Navy, like all other professional navies of the world, keeps a close watch on all issues of maritime salience and undertakes evaluation and formulates suitable responses in a dynamic manner. We are confident that the Indian Navy today, continues to remain the preferred security partner in IOR.
A jinx seems to be afflicting the submarine programme. Can you share an update on it and the way forward?
There is no jinx afflicting the submarine programme. Programmes of such nature are complex, and the world over have taken time to fructify. The RFP for the Project-75(I) has been issued to the two Indian applicant companies, M/s MDL and M/s L&T on 20 July 21. The case is being progressed as per the guidelines of the strategic partnership model defined in the defence procurement procedures. The bidders had raised certain concerns on some clauses of the RFP and the same have been resolved by minor changes to the RFP. The amendments have been issued to the bidders post approval by the DAC. Post receipt of the response to the RFP, the process of technical evaluation and commercial negotiations will follow.
What has been the evolution—in terms of interoperability and combined operations—of the Malabar series of exercises since the emergence of QUAD?
Malabar series of exercises have been undertaken for more than two decades. As you would be aware, we have recently concluded the 26th edition of Malabar exercises off Yokosuka, Japan. What started initially as a bilateral exercise has now evolved into a multi-lateral exercise. This has helped us, over the years, enhance our understanding of each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures and evolve better synergy in operating together, when the need arises.
QUAD, on the other hand, is a consultative forum formed between India, USA, Japan and Australia. The forum is for consultation on regional issues pertaining to economy, security and foreign cooperation issues. The forum is a mechanism between four vibrant democracies. Also, there is no defence aspect to the forum. Navies, all across the world, are an important part of the diplomacy. In a benign form, navies of these countries discuss matters related to maritime interests and may cooperate for undertaking missions such as HADR.
Given the delicate balance that the navy must strike between budgetary allocations and capability-building, what are your procurement priorities in the short, medium and the long term?
Today, the Indian Navy is a balanced, modern, contemporary multi-dimensional force capable of undertaking a wide gamut of operations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. It includes more than 130 ships and submarines and over 240 aircraft. While the existing shortfall will be mitigated in the short term to a certain extent with induction of 43 ships and two submarine, the medium-term goals are also in place. AoN has been accorded for construction of 49 ships and six submarines, which would augment the present force levels further by the end of the decade. The long-term priorities have also been under the anvil, wherein adequate impetus is being given towards high degree of automation onboard state of the art platforms developed through extensive R&D and innovation by all stakeholders.
INS Vikrant stands testimony to our nation’s efforts towards complete indigenisation of our armed forces. The technical expertise gained in indigenous construction of INS Vikrant is precious and should be capitalised upon to accrue savings in terms of cost and time. This project will create extensive jobs opportunities, encourage indigenous shipbuilding and business to MSMEs. The ‘plough back effect’ of projects of this magnitude to the economy are highly significant.
Further, to streamline the long-term priorities among the armed forces, the Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) is under formulation under the aegis of DMA, which would usher in prioritised acquisition of platforms and equipment based on threat perception and evolving external security scenario. I am sanguine that we are well poised to grow and evolve along a trajectory which would be commensurate with the nations’ interests and ready to meet challenges of the future battlefield.