India beefs up sea power with new assets; armed drones in the works
The Indian Navy will commission a modern locally built destroyer next week, along with a submarine constructed in the country with French collaboration, to strengthen its capabilities amid changing power dynamics in the Indian Ocean Region, navy vice chief Vice Admiral SN Ghormade said on Tuesday. This comes when a proposed procurement of armed drones from the US is set to come up for critical approval shortly.
India plans to induct 30 Predator drones, 10 each for the navy, air force and army, in a deal estimated to be worth $3 billion.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh will commission the stealth guided missile destroyer Visakhapatnam in Mumbai on November 21 followed by the induction of a French-designed Kalvari class diesel-electric attack submarine, Vela, on November 25 at a ceremony to be presided over by navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh.
“The commissioning of Visakhapatnam and Vela are major milestones and showcase indigenous capacity to build complex combat platforms. This will enhance our capacity and fire power to address threats both in the above water and underwater domains,” Ghormade said. Both platforms have been built at Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd in Mumbai.
Visakhapatnam is the first warship of the navy’s Project-15B under which three more warships will be delivered by 2025. Vela is the fourth of the six Kalvari class submarines being constructed in the country with technology transfer from French firm Naval Group under a ₹23,562-crore programme called Project 75. The remaining two submarines will be commissioned in two years.
“Global and regional balance of power is shifting rapidly and the region of most rapid change is undoubtedly the Indian Ocean Region. Continuous efforts are on to ensure that our force levels grow progressively to enhance the capability of the Indian Navy to meet the emerging challenges,” the vice chief said.
The commissioning of Visakhapatnam, armed with a variety of locally built weapons and sensors, will reaffirm India’s presence among an elite group of nations with the capability to design and build advanced warships, he said. Vela is a potent platform and very few countries possess the capability to build submarines, Ghormade said.
While it may seem that there is a spate of new commissioning of ships, these are all overdue accretions, said maritime affairs expert Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande (retd).
“Given the threats and tasks of the Indian Navy, much more needs to be done, especially for indigenisation. One hopes that not only greater budgetary support but more Atmanirbharta (self-reliance) can be ensured in the years to come,” Shrikhande added.
India is also pursuing a project (P-75I) worth ₹40,000 crore for building six more advanced submarines in the country under the government’s strategic partnership (SP) model to bolster the Indian Navy’s underwater force levels and counter the rapid expansion of China’s submarine fleet.
The Indian strategic partners cleared to collaborate with the foreign players are Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited and L&T. The foreign yards they can team up with for the project are the French Naval Group, German conglomerate Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau, Spain’s Navantia and South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Company.
On the proposed Predator purchase, Ghormade said “healthy discussions” were on among stakeholders and the case was progressing well. He said the proposal to buy the armed drones was likely to be taken up by the defence acquisition council (DAC) - India’s apex procurement body - in a short while. DAC’s approval for the drones is likely to be sought within the current financial year, HT has learnt.
The Indian Navy last year leased a pair of MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones (an unarmed variant of the Predators manufactured by General Atomics) from the US to boost its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. The MQ-9Bs have helped the navy keep a close watch on the Indian Ocean at a time when it has stepped up surveillance in the region to check China’s ambitions.
The commissioning of Visakhapatnam and Vela will be followed by the launch of Sandhayak in early December, the first of four large survey vessels to be built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, Ghormade said. A ship’s launch marks a significant milestone in its construction and refers to the vessel entering water for the first time.
The contract for building the four ships was signed between the defence ministry and GRSE in October 2018. “The ships will come with new generation hydrographic equipment and advanced technical capabilities for collecting oceanographic and geophysical data in the Indian Ocean Region,” he added. Sandhayak is likely to be delivered to the navy in October 2022.
The Indian Navy’s latest frigate, Tushil, was launched last month at the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad, with Russia preparing to deliver two new warships to India in 2023.
Tushil is part of an over $2.5-billion deal with Russia for four more Krivak/Talwar class stealth frigates for the Indian Navy, two of which are being constructed at the Yantar Shipyard while the remaining two will be built at the Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) with technology transfer from Russia, which is India’s top arms supplier. Tushil is expected to be commissioned into the Indian Navy in mid-2023 followed by its sister ship in 2023-end.
GSL is expected to deliver the two frigates by 2026-27.