New Delhi: The Indian Navy is looking at having a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) and is set to procure a raft of other platforms including Predator drones from the US to bolster its overall military capability, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said Saturday in the backdrop of evolving regional security matrix and China’s growing naval prowess.
Addressing a press conference a day ahead of Navy Day, he said a timeline of 2047 has been set for making the force ‘Atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant).
Admiral Kumar also said that an exercise is underway in the force to shed the colonial past as “we strongly support the view that we have to get away from this “Ghulami ki mansikta” (slave mentality).
The Navy Chief also said that the Indian Navy is set to open all its branches for women from next year.
On possible challenges from China, he asserted that the Navy keeps a strong vigil over movements of various Chinese military research and fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean Region.
Listing initiatives to bolster the Navy’s operational prowess, he said a draft cabinet note is being prepared for the proposed indigenous twin-engine deck-based aircraft, adding the plan is to have a prototype of the jet by 2026 while its production would start by 2032.
The Navy celebrates December 4 as Navy Day to commemorate its daring attack on Karachi harbour and its decisive victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
Admiral Kumar said the Navy is contemplating whether to go for indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) II or prefer a repeat order for the IAC I.
The Navy has been making a strong push for having the IAC-II having a displacement of 65,000 tonnes which was estimated to cost close to Rs 50,000 with the envisaged specifications.
“We are still working on what size it should be and what its capabilities should be. Right now we have put a hold on it because we have just commissioned INS Vikrant. We are quite happy with the ship. The way the ship performed in the trial,” Admiral Kumar said when asked about the IAC II.
India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (IAC I) was commissioned in September. The aircraft carrier, with a displacement of 40,000 tonnes, was built at a cost of around Rs 23,000 crore.
People familiar with the issue said the cost of building the IAC II was a major discussion point as there has been a view in the defence establishment that the Navy should focus on enhancing its fleet of submarines rather than spending close to Rs 50,000 crore on the aircraft carrier.
“It (IAC I) was ‘Atmanirbharta’ (self-reliant) in full bloom. So We are also currently examining whether we should look at the repeat order of the IAC I instead of going for the IAC II to capitalize on the equities which are available to the country,” he said.
“It is right now at the discussion stage. We have not yet firmed up our mind nor have we taken it up to the government,” Admiral Kumar said.
He said the recent global events have amply underscored that this vision cannot be met in letter and spirit if the force remains dependent on others for its security needs.
“Maintaining credible deterrence, while remaining ready to go into harm’s way to protect, preserve, and promote our national interests will remain our principal priority,” Admiral Kumar said.
“Our vision of being a ‘combat ready, credible, cohesive, and future-proof force’ underpins this aspect,” he said.
“To that end, the Government has clearly spelt out the need for AtmaNirbharta. The Indian Navy, on our part, has made an unequivocal commitment to be fully Aatmanirbhar by 2047,” he said.
The Chief of Naval Staff also said that the proposed procurement of a fleet of Predator drones from the US is under process and that the Navy is on course for a major capability enhancement to deal with myriad security challenges.
He also said that the Light Combat Aircraft (naval version) project will significantly help in developing the proposed next generation deck-based fighters.
“This is helping us in developing the next generation fighters to be operated from the deck which is something called the twin engine deck-based fighters,” he said.
“We are preparing the draft cabinet note for that. We are confident that by 2026, we should have the prototype,” he said.
The Navy Chief said production of the aircraft would start by 2032.
He also said that his force achieved a very high operational tempo in the last one year and that there has been greater emphasis on the criticality of maritime security as India marches ahead.
“The government has given us clear guidelines on Atmanirbhar Bharat. We have given assurances that the Indian Navy will become Atmanirbhar (self-reliant) by 2047,” the Navy Chief said.
Admiral Kumar said the Navy is in the process of shedding redundant or archaic practices.
“As far as inspiring initiatives go, the prime minister articulated Panch Pran from the ramparts of the Red Fort, which included Gulami ki Mansikta Se Mukti. In pursuance of that end state, the Navy will continue to proactively identify redundant or archaic practices, processes or symbols that could, either be discontinued, or modified in consonance with modern day realities,” he said.
The Navy Chief also underlined the importance of tri-services synergy.
“To my mind, jointness is the only way forward, as we prepare to fight and win the wars of tomorrow. The Late Gen Bipin Rawat had laid the foundations for increased synergy between the Armed Forces, and the present CDS, Gen Anil Chauhan, has provided renewed impetus to this effort,” he said.
“The Indian Navy remains fully committed to greater jointness and cohesion towards collective and effective outcomes,” he added.
He said that operationally, the Navy had a very intense and engaging time in the last one year.
He also said that commissioning of aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was a landmark event for India.
The Navy Chief said his force’s aim is to have Made-in-India security solutions for the country.
He said around 3,000 Agniveers have arrived in the Navy out of which 341 are women.
For the first time, we are inducting women sailors, he said. Asked about the procurement of the Predator drones, he said the case for it is under process.
The original proposal was to procure 30 MQ-9B Predator armed drones at a cost of over USD 3 billion to crank up India’s surveillance apparatus along the frontier with China as well as in the Indian Ocean region.
“The case for the procurement is under process. We are discussing whether the numbers have to be rationalised,” Admiral Kumar said.
The MQ-9B drone is a variant of the MQ-9 “Reaper” which was used to launch a modified version of the Hellfire missile that eliminated al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul last month.
In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a period of one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended subsequently.
“We have gained good experiences while operating the leased drones,” Admiral Kumar said.