Our economy is as dependant on the seas for trade, energy and commodity requirements as that of any island nation This makes a powerful maritime force the sine qua non of India’s economic resurgence. Our navy of 2020, must therefore be a force commensurate with the stature, responsibilities and commitments of the nation, and be capable of safeguarding India’s vital maritime interests at that point in time.
Having carried out a detailed examination of the evolving security, economic and geo-political scenario, the Navy’s planning staff have identified the maritime capabilities that the IN would need in all three dimensions to meet its various roles and missions. These capabilities are then translated into staff requirements and eventually into numbers of units.
As a “arm-chair” strategist, I can only attempt to paint a broad picture of tomorrow’s navy which may well be different from the NHQ vision.
Essentially, the mainstay of the navy’s Eastern and Western Fleets would be an aircraft-carrier task force each, whose composition and strength can be varied according to the mission in hand. One of these carriers will be the Vikramaditya, and the other, the first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) built by Cochin Shipyard. If ordered and funded in time, it is to be hoped that by 2020, a second IAC would also be available as a maintenance reserve to keep two ships operationally available.
A substantial force of destroyers and frigates (in the region of 30-40) would be required to form part of the carrier task forces as well as convoy escort, surface action and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) groups for independent tasking. A number of logistic support ships and auxiliaries would be needed to ensure that all our task forces are kept supplied with fuel, ammunition, victuals, stores and repair facilities wherever they may operate in the farthest reaches of the IOR.
This surface force would be backed by a strong aviation element consisting of helicopters (ASW and airborne early warning) integral to all major warships, shore based maritime reconnaissance ASW (MRASW) aircraft, and carrier-borne fighters. While the navy is currently in the process of identifying suitable MRASW aircraft, the fighters on board our carriers will be the MiG-29 K (or subsequent variants), and hopefully, the LCA (Navy). Should the Americans offer the STO/VL joint strike fighter (JSF), it would form a potent addition to the fleets.
By this time, our resuscitated submarine building industry should have entered into series production, and reversed the decline in force levels. Should a second production line be commissioned, we could hope for submarines of indigenous design to start emerging from it. These boats could well be equipped with air-independent propulsion and armed with vertically launched Brahmos.
In addition to major combatants, we would need a substantial mine counter-measures (MCM) force to ensure that our major naval harbours do not get choked by mine casualties. A number of smaller missile armed craft would be required for offshore and local naval defence.
If we are going to orient our operations (in support of the land battle) towards littoral warfare, our carrier task forces could be invested with the flexibility to switch between the roles of a “strike group” and an “expeditionary strike group”, by changing the ship and aircraft composition. This would also imply the acquisition of more amphibious ships and heavy-lift helicopters, as well as the creation of a small Marine Force.
” This powerful maritime force will be able to exploit its full potential only if networked in all three dimensions, through a dedicated communications satellite which will enable instant data transfer right across the IOR”
If what one hears of the Royal Navy’s impending decline/demise is true, a navy such as the one I have described, if in place by 2020, would rank amongst the top 3 or 4 in the world, and would be a maritime force to reckon with. Committed funding, transparent and streamlined acquisition procedures and a rejuvenated warship building industry are the three essential pre-requisites for this to happen.