In an exclusive interview with the Hindustan Times, Vice-Admiral Sanjeev Bhasin, flag officer commanding in chief of the Western Naval Command, said securing India’s western coast is the Navy’s biggest challenge.
The threat perception of terrorists using the sea route, as they did for 26/11, has increased.
India has a huge coastline, stretching 7,600 km, and we have island territories as well. We, along with the Coast Guard, have fortified patrolling. But there are grey areas where [unauthorised] landings can be carried out because the state governments concerned had not kept them under surveillance till 26/11 occurred.
A detailed plan has been chalked out with the Coast Guard and the Director General of Lighthouses to revive lighthouses and set up 30 radar stations along the western coast.
Trials of two such radar stations have started at Okha and Kandla in Gujarat.
The Navy has found it tough to monitor fishing boats.
This is a weakness identified [and exploited] by the terrorists. About 30,000 fishing boats are registered in Gujarat, 20,000 in Maharashtra, 20,000 in Karnataka and 2,000 in Goa.
Radar stations fitted with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) have been planned along the coast.
AIS devices will also be installed on these vessels. It is a massive problem and it cannot be taken care of only by the Navy and Coast Guard.
We need fishermen’s cooperation; we want them to be our eyes and ears. They have been very cooperative.
What new inductions has the Navy lined and when are they expected to join the fleet?
There are 39 ships on order; 34 of them will be made indigenously. Over the next two years, we’ll see the induction of three ships in the Shivalik, Talwar and Kolkata class of destroyers.
Two fleet tankers, Deepak and Shakti, are being made in Italy. The first one will be here this month. Apart from that, there are two survey ships being built indigenously. There has been some delay in the Scorpene submarine project, but we should see it commissioned by 2015.
When is the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed Vikramaditya, and the indigenously built aircraft carrier expected to join the fleet?
Vikramaditya’s sea trials are scheduled to start in March 2011. It will join the western fleet by the end of 2012. Six MIG 29K’s — fighter aircraft — that will operate from the carrier are already flying from [the] Goa [naval base].
We will get the remaining aircraft in knock-down state soon and will assemble them at Goa. As far as the indigenously built carrier is concerned, work is on at the Cochin shipyard.
It will be equipped to handle both the MiG 29Ks and the naval version of the indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft. We expect the carrier to be commissioned by 2014.
How do you plan to prop up the naval aviation wing, which was recently criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General for using non-operational aircraft?
We will have eight Boeing P8I aircraft [for long-range maritime reconnaissance] by January 2013.
We plan to buy four more. A global request for information [the first stage of procurement] has been floated to procure 56 Naval Utility Helicopters to replace the Chetak helicopters. We are also looking at replacing the anti-submarine warfare helicopter, Seaking.
When will we have the nuclear submarine that is being leased from Russia? How will it bolster our submarine capability?
Before getting to the leased submarine, we have our own indigenously built submarine, INS Arihant. Extensive sea trials are on.
As far as the Akula-II class submarines, we plan to name it INS Chakra, and we should have it shortly.