In a non-stop season of warfighting drills involving its most potent sea and air assets, the Indian Navy has spent the first two months of 2018 flexing muscle off both of the country’s seaboards in a pair of exercises tailored to emphasise a faster and leaner force.
Starting with Exercise Encore in the Bay of Bengal in January, last week the Western Naval Command headquartered in Mumbai concluded the three-week Exercise Paschim Lehar (‘Western Wave’), a large-scale war drill designed to demonstrate and test agility towards fighting the fabled ‘two-front war’ with Pakistan and China. And, even more significantly, to validate new flexibilities that will allow maritime planners to reconfigure missions while far out at sea.
With both the Indian Army and IAF invoking the ‘two-front war’ ideal near persistently in their pursuit of doctrinal shift, deployment and, most notably, equipment, the Indian Navy appears to be committing itself to the inevitable scenarios it finds on its plate. In Admiral Sunil Lanba, the navy finds itself helmed by a chief who prefers quietly to press on with what he has on hand, even if it is barely enough to cover the enormous responsibilities on the navy post the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai a decade ago.
Exercises Encore and Paschim Lehar will shortly be followed by MILAN 2018, the congregation of regional navies at the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, where the drills just completed by the navy will, without doubt, paint most presentations and conversations. They represent, in a progressive way, the Indian Navy’s slow but certain consolidation as a no-nonsense force in a region where its humanitarian strengths and rapid deployment capabilities are frequently countervailed against the perceived hegemonic intents of the Chinese state.
In a statement this week, the navy said, “Exercise Paschim Lehar 2018 enabled testing and revalidation of operational plans and manoeuvres in a hostile maritime scenario on India’s western seaboard. Defence of Indian offshore assets, such as oil rigs, escort operations of Indian merchant ships as well as coastal defence, were also rehearsed. The exercise will enable further refine the operational, logistics and administrative plans of the Western Naval Command.”
While the Indian Navy fights a quiet, but infinite battle for more teeth, a period of transformation is indubitably upon Indian’s maritime planners. A crippling decade-long nose dive in submarine numbers has tentatively slowed with the delivery of the first of six Scorpene-class submarines. And there are concrete plans for more nuclear submarines. However, with troubling accidents involving its current nuclear submarines, the indigenous ballistic missile boat INS Arihant and leased Russian Akula-II class INS Chakra, a spotlight continues to linger on safety.
A video created by the navy for Exercise Paschim Lehar (above) has a blink-and-you-miss-it clip of the INS Chakra. The submarine itself is currently reported to be in dry dock following damage suffered in an accident last year. Reports suggest Russia has quoted a repair fee of $20 million to get the boat back into operations. Troubles aside, this year, the Indian Navy will also officially kickstart the long-delayed and highly anticipated Project 75 (India) conventional submarine build program.
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