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Indian Navy Force Structure Development Is Driven by Blue Water Maritime Strategy

Indian Navy developments, Part 1 of 3

This year, the IN expects to induct six to nine ships, including:

  • Tarkash, a Russian built Project 11356 Batch 2 frigate;
  • Sahyadri, the last of three P-17 Shivalik class frigates;
  • one 109-meter, 3,100-ton P-28 corvette;
  • one 163-meter, 7,000 ton P-15A destroyer;
  • one 105-meter, 2,500 ton OPV, and;
  • three 50-meter survey ships.
Karmuk, Jalashwa, Jyoti, Viraat

The P-25A corvette Karmuk, the Austin class LPD Jalashwa (ex USS Trenton), the Russian built fleet tanker Jyoti and the former Royal Navy light carrier, Viraat (ex-HMS Hermes) with a mix of Sea Harrier fighters, Sea King, Chetak and Kamov 31 helicopters embarked, carry out a formation RAS. This picture is emblematic of the variety of platforms the IN operates. The transfer of the Trenton in 2007 paved the way for much greater cooperation and arms sales between the United States and India, including the sale of Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transports and a host of other deals. Indian Navy photo by SK Dhaka

The delivery of the survey ships, however, is likely to be pushed to the right. Senior IN officers say it is necessary to induct five to six new platforms every year to sustain and, eventually, grow force levels.

Besides new acquisitions, a mid-life update (MLU) program for as many as 28 legacy ships and submarines is under way. Several have completed the MLU, including a number of Kilo and Type 209 submarines; three P-16 Godavari-class frigates, which have received new guns and other combat system upgrades; two Kashin-class destroyers, that have been fitted with eight vertically launched Brahmos supersonic anti-ship missiles as well as combat system upgrades; and six of the Natya MCMVs that have been fitted with a Thales sonar and command and control system.

Three of the four Abhay-class submarines chasers are slated to receive the American made L-3 Ocean Systems towed array sonar. Similarly, several of the Project 1241RE fast missile craft have been fitted with new electronic warfare (EW) systems. One is also getting a locally produced Oto Melara 76 mm Super Rapid gun in place of its Russian AK-176 gun. At least one of the P-25 corvettes has a new EW system, suggesting that others are due to receive the same EW suite in due course.

Crucially, the recapitalization program is not just about numbers, but focuses more on capabilities said IN top brass, as the service strives to build a balanced force structure.

 

Indian Navy Maritime Strategy

IN Project 877 EKM Kilo

One of 10 Project 877 EKM Kilo class submarines in service with India’s submarine arm. Almost all are getting upgrades, including six or so that have already received the Klub-S missile system. Indian Navy photo

The growth of the Indian Navy reflects India’s growing economic and international stature, and its need to secure vital sea lanes of communication that pass through key choke points. It is driven by a Mahanian maritime strategy wherein the IN sees itself as a status quo and stabilizing force in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). As such, it is keen to retain good relations with other littoral navies. In other words, the Indian Navy aims to play its part in securing the global maritime commons.

A key initiative by the IN in this regard includes the IONS (Indian Ocean Naval Symposium) – that is modeled along the lines of the U.S. Navy’s Western Pacific Naval Symposium. A key tenet of IONS is fostering increased maritime co-operation among the 35 member navies from almost all of the littoral countries bordering the IOR.

The IN also provides material and training assistance to several IOR navies, including some on the east coast of Africa, as part of a capacity-building and enhancement drive. It is active in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa as well as in waters closer to home. The IN also pursues an active “Look East” policy that aims to foster closer relationships with key South Asian navies.

Dhanush on OPV

Until the nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, Arihant enters service in 2013, the Indian Navy’s sea based deterrent is the Dhanush short range ballistic missile that is launched from a specially modified OPV. The 8.53-meter long, 0.9-meter diameter missile, with a launch weight of about 4.4 tons, uses a single-stage liquid propellant engine and has a range of 350 kilometers. It can carry a payload up to 500 kilograms. DRDO photo

Regular bilateral and multilateral exercises with a host of navies ranging from Brazil and South Africa to Singapore and Australia underscore the IN’s commitment to good neighborly relations. Growing ties with the U.S. Navy highlight increasing strategic convergence between the world’s oldest and the world’s most populous democracies. At the same time, the IN often has to balance its desire for cooperation with that of India’s foreign policy, which reflects the country’s historic desire to retain its cherished foreign policy autonomy, one of non-alignment – though some might argue that it did not always work out to be so in practice. The key point to remember is that India’s relationship with Russia, which harks back to the sixties, is strategically important for India. And it will likely remain so for the foreseeable future.

Another cornerstone of India’s maritime strategy given India’s no first use nuclear doctrine is a robust, sea based nuclear deterrent capability with ballistic missile submarines. Actually, this capability has existed for several years now – albeit in the form of the Dhanush short range ballistic missile carried aboard two or more converted offshore patrol vessels!

More details on India’s maritime strategy can be found in “Freedom to use the Seas: India’s Maritime Military Strategy” that was published by the IN in 2007 and updated periodically.

Part 2 of this series on the Indian Navy looks at new build programs.

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