Re-Shaping the Indian Maritime Services: A Perspective from DEFEXPO 2014


2014-02-02 By Cmde (Retd) Ranjit B Rai

The Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Police and Intelligence agencies are the lead security providers, and tasked to prevent and tackle maritime terrorism. India’s Navy is India’s insurance against war at sea, and Defence Minister AK Antony has charged the Indian Navy to be ‘the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR)’, which is expected to show the Flag and provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the region, a capability it successfully demonstrated in the 2004 Tsunami.

India’s vital oil and gas installations located offshore are vulnerable and contribute 70% to India’s hydrocarbon production for energy security. These offshore assets, nuclear power stations, satellite launch sites, and ports situated along the 7,516 km coastline and the country’s 1197 islands demand persistent surveillance and credible response to eventualities.

In 2004, the Navy scripted a Mahanian Maritime Military Strategy of power play and went in for big ships at the expense of coastal forces, and through diplomatic initiatives loaned/transferred three Offshore Patrols Vessels (OPVs) bought with ONGC support for offshore patrols to Sri Lanka while another two were converted to fire the Dhanush nuclear missiles.

In 2008, the 26/11 attack on Mumbai for three days came in as a wake-up call for the Navy and the neglected Coast Guard.

India’s defense acquisition had been in politically-enforced slumber after the purchase of the Bofors guns and allegations of wrong doing since 1989, and the terror attack was second shock given by Pakistan after the 1999 Kargil War.

Twenty OPVs and 290 smaller craft have been ordered, but the naval strategy and doctrine has not been reviewed. That warrants a re-look.

The Navy has injected a lot of technology with newer ships and secure Internet facilities at sea with GSAT-7.

Defexpo has begun to rank after the bi-annual Euronaval exhibition held at Le Bourget in Paris for the varied naval equipment and weapon systems that are displayed from all over the world. For the first time Japan’s ShinMaywa, whic
Defexpo has begun to rank after the bi-annual Euronaval exhibition held at Le Bourget in Paris for the varied naval equipment and weapon systems that are displayed from all over the world. 

After 26/11, a chain of 48 Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders and receivers by SAAB of Sweden and Elcome Marine of India, TETRA radars from Denmark, OBSERV cameras from Canada and night vision devices from Controp Israel has been set up by Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) along the coast.

Their connectivity by fiber optics and internet is being operationalized by Director Generals of Coast Guard and Lighthouses to ensure warnings for reaction, under the NC3I project set up under the Cabinet Secretary (the country’s highest civil services officer). The DG Shipping has set up Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) of all ships at sea in the Indian LRIT Region and has provided feeds to the Navy and Coast Guard.

All these are being linked to the National Command Centre.

The systems deployed are very advanced, and call for highly skilled manpower with adequate training, and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Some of these systems will be on display at Defexpo 2014.

Notably, several countries – Qatar and other Gulf countries for instance – are adopting similar systems.

In 2013, India became the number one defense importer, and Defexpo India 2014, the 8th in the series of biennial Land, Naval and Internal Security Systems Exhibition, is set to attract over 400 entities from India and abroad.

Following the AW 101 VIP helicopter deal bribery allegations, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has decided to keep 27 Indian and foreign firms out of Defexpo.

The list includes Italy’s Finmeccanica, the main stakeholder of Agusta Westland which manufactures AW 101s, and its subsidiaries.

The Navy and coast Guard have interests in Finmeccanica’s Selex (RAN-40L radar from SELEX Sistemi Integrati, for INS Vikrant) , Alenia Armacchi (ATR-40 Surveyor and ATR-72 for MRMR selection) , Oto Malera (72/60mm guns with BHEL and the 127mm guns) and WASS (with Bharat Dynamics Ltd Hyderabad for Blackshark torpedoes and submarine decoys).

This could challenge the Navy, if supplies and negotiations are disrupted.

Defexpo has begun to rank after the bi-annual Euronaval exhibition held at Le Bourget in Paris for the varied naval equipment and weapon systems that are displayed from all over the world.

For the first time Japan’s ShinMaywa, which produces the US-2 amphibian planes ($ 110 million a piece), will be there.

Notably, during Euronaval 2013, a session was devoted to the maritime challenges in the South China Seas, piracy and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) where France has territories and naval bases in Le Reunion and Djibouti. It was attended by Dr Sivathanu Pillai who hosted a large BrahMos pavilion, heads of shipyards and defence companies including MKU of India. Six Naval Chiefs from Europe and the Chief of Naval Staff of Brazil Admiral Júlio Soares de Moura Neto attended and aired views.

Admiral Bernard Rogel, Chief of the French Navy concluded that the 21st Century, is going to be a ‘Century of Maritimization’ and the phrase has stuck.

It needs noting, the Brazilian Navy is expanding its Navy in collaboration with DCNS of France, to build conventional submarines and design nuclear submarines locally. Brazil has low grade uranium enrichment capability, but wants to go in for nuclear propulsion for submarines.

China has been the second-biggest provider of arms to Pakistan after the US, and now, it is reported that Beijing will lease even nuclear submarines to Islamabad. The Pakistani nuclear is built on some stolen western technology and substantial assistance from China.

India is short of submarines, and those that are there, are quite old. The project to build six Scorpenes with DCNS has been delayed again and again, with the delivery of the first now going to 2015 or 2016. There have been issues over pricing and fitting of India-supplied systems.

Navantia of Spain which was constructing the rear propulsion sections of the six Scorpenes in the original Armaris deal, also walked out over differences with DCNS.

INS Arihant. Credit: India Strategic
INS Arihant. Credit: India Strategic 

The Indian Navy’s infrastructure has also not kept up with the expansion of the Navy. That is an area where naval planners need to focus with greater attention. The torpedoes for the Scorpenes are also yet to be ordered.

The Indian Navy is going in for another six submarines, equipped with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) under Project 75 (I).

Navantia, which will be at Defexpo, has offered Spain’s new S-90 submarine with full transfer of technology for this project and signed an MOU to co-construct with Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T).

L&T has built the nuclear submarine INS Arhant and has set up a green field shipyard at Tuttapali near Ennore in Tamil Nadu. Navantia has also assured that the S-90 can house the BrahMos missiles and awaits the Request for Proposal (RFP). It has reportedly said that the new technology S 90 submarines would be cheaper than Scorpenes.

The Indian Navy is setting up a new green field submarine base on the East coast under Project Varsha near Vishakapatnam, where the nuclear submarines of INS Arihant class are being built at the Ship Building Centre (SBC) by DRDO and L&T.

Vishakhapatnam is also the home base of the nuclear-propelled INS Chakra, leased from Russia.

Navy’s Large Expansion Plan

The large expansion plan of the Navy with 45 ships on order in Indian yards includes six Scorpenes, six Type 15A and 15B destroyers and seven 17A Shivalik class ships, two DSRVs and four LPDs, along with aircraft in the pipe line.

The acquisition brings with it, ‘big prospects and big challenges’, as costs of ships being built in Indian PSUs and private yards are well over budget and over time. The four ASW corvettes in Project 28 at GSRE Kolkata and two AOPVs at Goa Shipyard Ltd are progressing.

The Navy had ordered six Australian design Catamaran survey ships at around Rs 100 crore each at Alcock & Ashdown Yard in Gujrat and acquired Huggins-1000 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV), sometimes known as underwater drones, from Kongsberg.

After the delivery of the first INS Makkar (a star), this yard has disruption due to financial woes.

One of the biggest weaknesses of the Indian Navy, as well as Coast Guard, is the shortage of helicopters. The process has been slow both within these Services and the MoD, and the scam over AgustaWestland’s VIP helicopter sale to India has further complicated the acquisition process.

Italy’s Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, is involved in the naval helicopter competitions but sources tell India Strategic that it is likely to be thrown out. (Although no Finmeccanica group company has been blacklisted yet, MOD has cancelled their participation at the show).

The Navy is woefully deficient of multi role helicopters and the older Seakings MK 42B are just about managing. Something needs to be done fast, and that word is unfortunately not in the Indian dictionary.

The good news is that the last of the three Krivacks, INS Teg, Tarash and Trikand with BrahMos missiles from Yantar shipyard and 44,500 ton aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya from SEVMASH in Severonodnisk and 22 Mig-29Ks have arrived from Russia.

Vikramaditya is currently working up to receive the MiG-29Ks on board and will embark the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh for a day at sea, just as Pandit Nehru welcomed the INS Vikrant at the Ballard Pier in Bombay in 1961 and Rajiv Gandhi went to sea in 1998 on INS Viraat on her arrival to witness Sea Harrier operations.

Indian Navy’s Infrastructure

Indian Navy’s two large legacy naval dockyards in Mumbai and Vishkapatnam in the center of cities are bearing the burden of catering to the increasing needs of a much larger Navy with sophisticated systems. Cochin’s Base Repair Organisation (BRO) has been upgraded and the dockyard and ship lift at Karwar in Project Seabird is still being set up in Phase II. INS Vikramaditya is home-based at INS Kadamba at Karwar, not far from INS Hansa in Goa where the Mig 29s are located.

Naval infrastructure also includes headquarters, messes, airfields, communication facilities, reliable and timely logistic supply systems, naval stores, ammunition and naval port installations, weapons and their maintenance depots and dockyards that support the Navy.

Getting them ready in time poses challenges and good infrastructure adds to the teeth of the Navy. Facilities for newer weapon systems normally precedes their induction. This has not been true generally in India. Planning for infrastructure is left to the over-worked MOD, which has to provide funds and buildings as requested by each Service.


There is increased geo-strategic interest in this region as the East is witnessing a high rate of growth and an expansions of navies. A ‘New Great Game’ is unfolding in South Asia as US and ISAF forces plan to pull out of Afghanistan this year leaving a sort of vacuum. The Middle East is also in the throes of Arab Springs.

The Navy is challenged. Calls on India’s Navy for exercises with foreign navies, piracy patrols and flag showing are increasing. This requires high standards of training and strict adherence to SOPs.

It can be said that ‘These are the best of times and the worst of times for India’s expanding but capable Navy’ culled from a Tale of Two Cities as the nation looks up to it as a modern sea going force. After the 26/11 Pakistani terror attacks on Mumbai, the Prime Minister has repeatedly assured that funds would not be a constraint. This however should not bring in complacency.

It is to the credit of the Indian Navy that they have made do with legacy infrastructure (called ‘Jugad’ in Hindi i.e., improvisation) where ever they could with Governmental support. But a big weakness of the system that much of the equipment has to be sent abroad for periodic maintenance and upgrades.

Nonetheless, the Indian Navy is strong and capable.

An indication of what the Navy is doing and wants to do should be available at Defexpo. The participating companies will have a chance to assess the requirements and interact with key players at this event..

Republished with permission of our partner India Strategic.