December 20, 2010

The Game Changers

(Forceindia ) : Like the Indian Army, the Indian Navy, especially after 26/11 has an important peacetime role which requires, to say the least, capability for round the clock surveillance over a huge Oceanic space of 73.6 million kilometres. In addition, the navy, after the launch of the S-2 vessel (indigenous nuclear powered submarine) has the additional deterrence role, which given India’s declared no-first-use nuclear weapons policy is critical, as the undersea vector is more survivable than aircraft and ballistic missile vectors. Given the PLA Navy’s SSN and SSBN capabilities, and now with reports coming in that the Pakistan Navy is acquiring Chinese 5,500ton type 091 Hans class nuclear powered attack submarine, the Indian Navy’s deterrent, at its present level, does not amount to much. Since the government and the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma are silent on the progress of the S-2 and the follow-on vessels, one is compelled to pick up rumours which suggest that technological, materials and management challenges have hamstrung desired results.Given this situation, one would have hoped that like his two predecessors, the CNS, through the dedicated media, would periodically inform the nation on how taxpayers’ money was being spent to build conventional naval capabilities. The annual traditional media interaction before the Navy Day on December 4 is woefully inadequate. As the top operational commander in the full knowledge of existing capabilities, he is best placed to explain challenges facing his service for peacetime and possible wartime roles. Considering that India’s land borders are disputed, and it can only seek a strategic role beyond its geographical confines in the Indian Ocean Region, for which major friendly powers including the US have sought maritime cooperation with us, the CNS’ silence is counter-productive as speculations abound. It could be argued that talking to the media may create unnecessary controversy. But is it not a risk that a navy chief, in the larger interest of his service, should be prepared to take? Except for the CNS, no naval officer has the wholesome knowledge or authority to speak on the service. So the update that FORCE is giving here has been collated from various (informed) sources and a visit to the biggest naval station, INS Hansa in Goa.

The Revolution in Military Affairs for the navy, which refers to speed in the tempo of operations, implies three technological competencies: battle-space awareness (Maritime Domain Awareness) to include Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); advanced Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Interoperability (C4I); and precision force use (precision guided munitions). In war, the navy will be required to both fight battles at sea as well as contribute to land battles. With the arrival of MiG-29K multi-role carrier aircraft at INS Hansa, the choices for the navy to contribute to land battles have increased. Once the whole MiG-29K complement is in place atop the 44,570 ton INS Vikramaditya (erstwhile Admiral Gorshkov), and on the 37,500ton Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (new INS Vikrant) expected to join service by 2015, the navy will be in a position to complement the Indian Air Force, especially in a two-front hostilities situation. The MiG-29K, built specifically for the Indian Navy, is unlike the MiG-29 air superiority aircraft with the Indian Air Force. It is two-and-half times heavier, with full automation, digital fly-by-wire, common Mil Bus to integrate non-Russian weapons of western origin, four weapon stations under each wing, and can do air-to-air and buddy refuelling. “Mig-29K has the capability to be pitched back into the battle,” is how an admiral put it, implying its multi-role capability to switch between air-to-air, air-to-sea, and air-to-land missions. This clearly gives three earlier unavailable operational advantages to navy planners. One, the MiG-29K can undertake deep penetration strikes on land while ensuring that the carrier stays beyond the radius of the enemy’s shore-based strikes. Two, the MiG-29K weapon load carrying capacity equals that of Su-30MKI. And three, it has excellent endurance being able to spend two-and-half times more on task than any other aircraft (Sea Harrier) with the Indian Navy. Given these benefits, the MiG-29K unit at INS Hansa is the envy of the station.  ( by  Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab)

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