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Submarine Strength Low, Still Awaiting RFP for P75-I Project’: Navy

Staff Correspondent

MUMBAI: The Indian Navy has again flagged a critical shortage in it’s underwater fleet, pointing to the measly 13-15 boats and the Project 75-I, for which the Request for Proposal is still to be issued. Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the ongoing Navy Day celebrations aboard the warship INS Kochi, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command, Vice Admiral Girish Luthra admitted the navy’s weakness in the area.

The admission paints a grim picture with China and Pakistan rapidly arming themselves, besides cooperating militarily. “We are lagging behind and trying to start (the P75I) project at the earliest, but it has gotten delayed since the RFP has still not been issued,” he said. The project involves a foreign submarine maker manufacturing six vessels in India in partnership with a local Indian company.

While France has again pitched it’s Scorpene submarine, four of which are already under construction at the Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) under the P75 project, Russia, Sweden, Germany and Japan too are in the race with their Amur, Saab-Kockums, Type 214 and Soryu class of vessels, respectively. The navy presently operates Russian Kilo (rechristened Sindhugosh) and German HDW (rechristened Shishumar) class boats, some of which are undergoing refits and up-gradation. This besides two nuclear submarines, a home-built Arihant and an Akula\-class submarine leased from Russia (renamed INS Chakra).

He also said the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) II project, is still in the ‘concept definition stage’, with the Ministry of Defence still to issue an Acceptance of Necessity (AoN). The INS Vikrant, part of the IAC-I project is already nearing completion at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) where it is being built. “Aircraft carriers continue to be the mainstay of our naval thinking,” VAdm Luthra said. Responding to a question on the navy’s envisaged amphibious capabilities, he said the Landing Platform Docks (LPD) acquisition is in the bid-opening stage. The INS Betwa too, which tipped over two years ago while being ‘refitted’ for a ‘mid-life upgrade’ at the Mumbai Naval dockyard two years ago, is expected to resume service in the “third quarter of 2019.”

Talking about infrastructural enhancement for personnel purposes at it’s bases, VAdm Luthra announced a large residential facility at Porbandar in Gujarat, a similar 2,700 capacity facility at INS Kadamba in Karwar and focus on de-stressing of personnel due to prolonged off-shore deployments. “A Naval Ship repair Yard and a Naval Air Station at Karwar will also be operational as a part of Project Seabird’s Phase II Alpha in 3-4 years. A new dry dock at Mumbai will also be fully ready in three months. The trials for the first ship are underway,” he added. The Phase IIA at Karwar costs Rs 9,600 crore. As regards security of naval establishments following the recent incidents of leaks and espionage, he announced the establishment of a specialised training school at Karwar.

Cyber, AI and Big Data

While shedding light on the navy’s need to build amphibious capability embodied it’s ‘Maritime Doctrine’ released last year, he said the plan is tied to the proposed Cyber Command and the Joint Services Special Operations Command. The navy has the distinction of leading in cyber warfare and indigenization. He also confirmed the need to have another dedicated communications satellite like the Rukmini.

Most notably, the navy has officially accepted the need to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Analytics in it’s operations, with the former being discussed at the last two Commanders Conferences. “We have identified two projects where AI and Big Data Analytics can be used for making smaller decisions. (For) Robotics (applications) (we are) working with DRDO and private companies, as well as in-house development. We are sending our personnel on special courses. They are important fields and we should be fast and quick there,” he added.