India will not have the capability to scour its harbours for potential mines and explosives for at least three years, making them highly vulnerable to enemy action.
A parliamentary report on the country’s naval preparedness has revealed that the Indian Navy will be without a minesweeper till 2021, considering that the existing fleet of six Soviet-origin vessels is slated to be decommissioned by next year.
Naval forces use minesweepers to secure harbours by locating and destroying mines.
In its latest report tabled in Parliament, the standing committee on defence asked the government to make “sincere and concerted efforts” for equipping the navy with the critical capability. The panel is headed by BC Khanduri, a BJP MP who retired as a major general.
“If an enemy submarine mines shallow waters outside a key Indian harbour, we will come to know of it only after a ship blows up. We are Ram bharose (at God’s mercy),” said a navy officer.
India might sign a Rs 32,640-crore deal with a South Korean shipyard for building 12 mine counter-measure vessels (MCMVs) in the country by March 31, but the first of those is likely to be delivered only in 2021. Any delay in hammering out the deal could further upset the navy’s calculations, said another officer, adding that securing India’s 12 major harbours requires at least 24 minesweepers.
“The MCMVs are slated for de-induction by 2016-2018… 2016 has already passed, and moreover, building them will take considerable time. The committee feels that the entire process of MCMV procurement will be delayed inordinately,” the report said.
The new MCMVs will be built at the Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) in collaboration with Busan-based Kangnam Corporation under the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Though the deal was supposed to be closed last year, discussions on technology transfer caused delays. The construction of the first vessel is expected to begin in April 2018, and deliveries are likely to be completed between 2021 and 2026.
“Not having minesweeping capabilities can have deadly consequences,” said Sudarshan Shrikhande, a retired rear admiral. “Even modified fishing trawlers can be used for laying mines, multiplying the threat at the sub-conventional level.”
So, how has the navy landed into this mess?
The MCMV tender for eight vessels was floated nearly a decade ago, with Kangnam emerging as the frontrunner for the order. However, the government scrapped the tender in 2014 amid allegations that the Korean firm had hired middlemen to swing things in its favour.
In February 2015, the Centre nominated the GSL to build minesweepers in partnership with a foreign shipyard. It was later clarified that the previous tender was scrapped due to “procedural issues”, and Kangnam could compete again because it was not on the government’s blacklist.