India and the United States may have set up a working group to explore aircraft carrier technology but the navy hasn’t made up its mind yet, navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said. In a wide-ranging interview with Rahul Singh, he talked about the need to appoint a single-point military adviser to the government and the quick tempo set by the Modi government to fill crucial operations gaps in the military’s capabilities
Will the navy deploy the electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) offered by the US on the second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-II)?
The IAC-II is only in a phase of study where the approach paper is being evaluated to look at possible contours of the carrier – size, equipment and machinery. It’s in a preliminary phase and will later be taken up by the defence ministry. The setting up of a joint working group on sharing technology isn’t any signal that we will go for EMALS. This will follow a protracted decision-making process by the government on aspects related to what the form and fit of the carrier will be. It’s too early to say what technology we will go for but all options are being evaluated.
What are your views on improving integration among the three arms of the military by appointing a chief of defence staff (CDS) or permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee?
The government will decide if there will be a CDS and on its form. But there is a requirement for jointness in the armed forces because no single service can hope to fight a conflict on its own. Jointness does exist but we certainly need a mechanism to strengthen it.
The UPA government drew flak for neglecting the military’s needs. The new regime has provided momentum to several stalled projects. Is it more perceptive to your needs?
I would say the government is very conscious about the importance of the maritime domain… these maritime interests have a direct relationship with the country’s economic growth. And this understanding and realisation is perceptible in terms of giving importance to various ongoing projects.
You took over as chief a year ago when the navy was going through a tumultuous phase and was labelled an accident-prone force. What have been your toughest fights?
I think the biggest priority has been to make sure various dimensions of the navy are combat ready at all times. For that, we had to ensure ships, submarines and aircraft were in their highest state of combat readiness. Several issues addressed include quality of training, safety audits and high-level of maintenance for our platforms. You have to fight today’s war with today’s assets. What will come after five or 10 years will come. It’s very important to be doing what we need to do with our existing force levels.
China is rapidly building up its undersea capabilities but India’s submarine fleet is not in the best of health. What are your views?
As far as our submarine force levels are concerned, measures have been taken to make sure the existing vessels are brought to a high-operational state. We are looking at life-extension programmes and arresting delays in ongoing projects. The navy’s maritime capabilities perspective plan looks at the future environment and other factors. Induction of assets is progressing in accordance with the long-term plan. We are certainly monitoring any activity of maritime forces in our region.
What is the status of the indigenous nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, INS Arihant?
It is currently undergoing sea trials and these are proceeding satisfactorily. The intention is to carry out weapon trials this year. But I would not like to set a deadline for the submarine to take up deterrent patrols.