Various Problems of Indian Navy
With nearly 140 ships, Indian Navy is truly an operational Navy which is entrusted with maritime responsibilities across multiple fronts. Its maritime responsibilities vary from safeguarding a 7,515 km coastline, island territories, and a 2 million square kilometer of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In addition it has the responsibility to conduct Gulf of Aden patrols, anti-piracy and anti-terrorist operations; and also securing Sea Lanes of Communication to ensure a safe environment to ocean trade which at present constitutes 95 per cent by volume and 77 per cent by value. The increasing assertion of Chinese navy in Indian Ocean region is also a challenge to the Indian Navy.
Indian Navy in troubled waters
At a time when the Indian Navy is considered as an indispensable instrument of diplomacy, power projection and credible second-strike capability in the event of a nuclear war, it has been plagued by a myriad of issues like delayed purchases, political meddling, ageing fleets etc. Some of the problems of the Navy are as follows:
Though Navy has taken initiatives for indigenization, like the other two services, Navy is also largely import-dependent for procuring submarines, most helicopters, fighter and maritime reconnaissance aircrafts etc. It continues to rely on foreign vendors for procuring spares, servicing and mid life upgrades.
Cost and time overruns
Cost and time overruns remains as a feature of almost all production projects. This plagues the Navy. For instance, INS Vikramaditya was inducted into Navy after a gap of more than 10 years after the purchase contract was signed. So, for the purchase of INS Vikramaditya, India was made to renegotiate and sign the contract to a higher $2.3 billion. Due to the unexpected delay, the 45 MiG-29K fighters purchased for the aircraft carrier at a cost of another $2 billion had started to depreciate before they could be operationalised.
Earlier, Navy functioned with a single aircraft carrier INS Viraat for about 19 years from 1995 to 2014. After the retirement of the 56 year old INS Viraat, and with the delayed developmental projects, Navy is back to being a single aircraft carrier Navy. Aircraft carrier INS Vikrant which was supposed to be serving is already running six years behind the schedule and is likely to take another three years before it enters in to service. In the meantime, the cost for this aircraft carrier alone had increased six fold from Rs 3,261 crore to Rs 19,341 crore.
The three Kolkata-class stealth guided missile Destroyers was due for commissioning in 2009 and 2010. But these were inducted between 2014 and 2016 with over three-fold increase of cost from Rs 3,580 crore to Rs 11,662 crore.
Similarly, Kamorta-class anti-submarine warfare corvettes, which was due for delivery between 2009 and 2012 was delivered in 2014 and 2016. Still two more corvettes are awaited to be delivered. Already, the cost has more than doubled from Rs 3,051 crore to Rs 7,852 crore. The construction of five offshore patrol vessels, 80 interceptor craft and four attack crafts are also running behind schedule.
The worst among all is the case of the submarine fleet which is considered as indispensable to accompany the Navy’s aircraft carriers among other tasks. The Navy at present makes use of 13 conventional submarines, which regularly require breaking surface to charge its batteries and thus prone to detection each time. Out of 13, 12 submarines are between 22 and 30 years old and the left out submarine which happens to be the youngest submarine is 16 years old. China, on the other hand operates about 60 submarines, out of which nine of them nuclear-powered.
In 1999, the government unveiled a 30 year plan to induct 24 submarines by 2030. But the Navy has not inducted a single submarine since 2000. While the first conventional submarine (French-origin Scorpene) will be inducted only in 2017, and five more by 2021, the government has no further plans for induction of submarines as of now.
INS Arihant, indigenously developed nuclear-powered submarine, is undergoing sea trials since December 2014 and two more nuclear submarines are at present under construction. The government has cleared for the construction of further six more nuclear submarines, but no deadline has been fixed.
Majority of the vessels are ageing and will be required to be decommissioned in the coming 10 years. For instance, the six mine sweepers which are over 25 years old has resulted in many accidents and 59 deaths between June 2007 and November 2014. The recent episode of sinking of INS Sindhurakshak, following a series of blasts in the torpedo section also cannot be ignored. The Navy has also no deep submergence rescue vehicles for rescuing sailors from submarines in case a submarine got disabled deep under water and is every time dependent on the U.S. in such cases.
Shortage of manpower
The Navy currently faces the shortage of almost 1,600 and 1,11,000 officers and sailors respectively. With the manpower shortage and shortage of vessels, the Navy is struggling to maintain a force level of 138 ships and submarines which was approved by the government in 1964! No doubt it cannot comply with the recommendations of the defence acquisition council which has asked it to increase the force level to 198 ships and submarines.
Lack of accountability, low levels of indigenization, active weapon lobbyists, consistent bureaucratic apathy towards issues concerning defence forces, political indifference and meddling has brought down the morale of Indian Navy.
All the above problems are certainly not comforting for a 21st- century Navy with big aspirations.
It is argued that the bureaucrats lack appreciation of military needs. The bureaucrat-military tug of war plays havoc with plans to modernize armed forces. So, it is suggested that the military officers should be appointed to the Ministry of Defence on deputation basis to better understand the problem ailing the armed forces.
The long drawn process of acquisition has to be made short and price negotiations with the prospective sellers should immediately begin once technical specifications are obtained. This will prevent corruption and manipulation of specifications and prices.
The government should focus on speedy streamlining of its procurement procedures for the supply of running spares to sharply decrease the accidents traceable owing to some sort of technical malfunction.
According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, unless India wakes up to modernize its equipment and repairing and streamlining institutions in the defence sector, China could pose a serious security threat to it.
The country cannot afford to have these deficiencies paralyze our navy, especially at a time when Chinese assertion in the Indian Ocean has increased.