"The country has well-established procedures to sort out issues with neighbours"

Pointing out that status quo ante had been restored after the three-week Chinese incursion in eastern Ladakh with the issue having been sorted out through diplomacy and negotiations, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Saturday said India had the right to develop infrastructure, facilities and capabilities on its land.

“Our Army and Air Force are developing their capabilities in border areas only on our own land and this process will continue,” he said replying to questions at a press conference at the Naval Air Base in Goa after he commissioned the Navy’s MiG 29K combat jet squadron.

Mr. Antony said India had “well-established” procedures to sort out issues with neighbours. His reference was to the April 15 Chinese incursion in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector in eastern Ladakh that ended after several rounds of flag meetings between local Army commanders and negotiations with Beijing at the diplomatic level.

“As China has the right to improve infrastructure and other facilities in its border areas, India also has the right to develop its capabilities and infrastructure in the border areas on its own land,” he asserted.

Sea lanes vital

Reiterating that India would protect its national interests, including vital sea lanes which were becoming increasingly important for carrying on trade and commerce, the Minister said economic development depended on a secure environment.

“We are supporting the Navy so that it can meet all challenges successfully. The Navy will see a new age of more inductions in the years to come. It will protect the national interest in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere.” Without naming anybody, Mr. Antony asserted that India would do “everything to safeguard our national interests.”

Aircraft carrier

The indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC), being constructed at the Cochin shipyard, would be launched for outfitting on August 12. The 45,000-tonne aircraft carrier’s construction began in 2009 and after completing the undersea work like hull and propellers, it would be launched for outfitting on and above the deck.

The first IAC is likely to be commissioned in 2017 after extensive sea trials expected to begin in 2016.

On a question about Russia, Mr. Antony said Moscow had been the “most trusted” partner not only in defence but also in other key areas with the relationship going back to several decades.

The Minister said the armed forces were acquiring new platforms and equipment to strengthen their capabilities and preparedness.

Mr. Antony said the security environment around India was changing rapidly, more so in the oceans. Acquisition of new techniques and training were crucial to enhance India’s defence preparedness.

“Red letter day”

Terming the commissioning of the MiG 29K squadron, INAS 303, a “red letter day” for the Navy, the Minister said the latest squadron would operate from INS Vikramaditya, formerly Admiral Gorshkov, the aircraft carrier that would be delivered later this year.

Naval aviation is set to get more teeth with the new and capable aircraft joining the fleet. Nearly 20 MiG 29K aircraft have been inducted into the Navy’s air arm and the squadron was formally commissioned by Mr. Antony here, marking the diamond jubilee of the Naval aviation. Navy Chief Admiral D.K. Joshi and top Navy officials were present at the ceremony that saw an impressive fly-past by Navy’s fighters and surveillance aircraft.

The latest squadron would form the fighter complement of INS Vikramaditya. Contracts had been signed for more MiG 29K aircraft and would form the complement of Indigenous Aircraft Carrier 1, which is under construction in the Kochi shipyard. Ever since decommissioning of INS Vikrant in 1997, INS Viraat with its integral air arm of Sea Harriers, Sea Kings and Chetaks has been central to fleet operations till date.

The Naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) was under development at Goa. This LCA along with MiG 29K would form the main carrier-borne fighter component of the Navy in the near future.

Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft have also been contracted to take over the training role from the Kiran aircraft and deliveries of these would also start this year, say Navy officials.

Mini Air Force

Over the past few years, the Naval air arm has grown from a modest force to a mini Air Force and has about 220 aircraft, 1,300 officers and 9,000 men. From its early days of having a single air station, it has now grown to encompass eight air stations. “Future inductions will see our present naval aircraft inventory increase substantially, transforming the Naval Aviation into a potent multidimensional networked force,” Navy officials said.

The Navy’s long-range maritime patrol capabilities will also get a boost with the induction of the first Boeing P8-1 aircraft this year, making it only the second operator of this aircraft after the U.S. Navy. Coastal surveillance capabilities are also being increased with additional UAVs which have been integrated with fleet operations and can be controlled by fleet ships.

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