No move to acquire another nuclear submarine from Russia at present

It is official. The Navy, reeling under the loss of teeth of its underwater arm, has drawn up plans to give life-extension refit to six of its ageing submarines.

Vice-Admiral Satish Soni, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command, on Tuesday revealed that the force wanted to give life-extension to four Kilo-class (Sindhughosh class) and two HDW (Shishumar class) submarines “to plug the gaps of reduction in its conventional submarine fleet.”

“This [the proposal] is with the government and would take sometime, but the Navy has plans,” he said in response to a query from The Hindu at a media conference on board offshore patrol vessel INS Sunayna ahead of the Navy Day.

The Vice-Admiral, however, replied in the negative when asked about the Navy’s reported move to acquire on lease another nuclear submarine from Russia. “As of now, from formal news that is available to me, the Navy doesn’t have such plans. It could be there with the government, but to the best of my knowledge, the answer is ‘no’,” he maintained.

(Vladimir S. Nikitin, General Director of the Russian submarine repair yard Zvyozdochka in north Russia, told The Hindu during a recent interaction that a contract for life-extension refit of two Indian Kilo-class submarines in 2015 was imminent. The refit, he contended, would extend the life of the submarines by another 10 years. Zvyozdochka had earlier carried out midlife refit of five Indian Kilo-class submarines including the ill-fated Sindhurakshak, which sank following an explosion. The yard also supports refit of two submarines of the class in India. The life-extension refit of the Shishumar-class submarines, however, would be done by the public sector yard Mazagon Dock.)

Foreign trainees

Vice-Admiral Soni, heading the Navy’s training command, said the Navy was hopeful of inviting foreign trainees to the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala in 2015. The infrastructure of the academy was still in progress at the time of its commissioning a few years ago. It was expected to stabilise to a level by 2015 which would allow the force to invite foreign trainees, he said.

To a query on the Navy reportedly training 500 Vietnamese sailors at its submarine training establishment INS Satavahana in operating Kilo-class submarines, the Vice-Admiral said the Navy trained “people from friendly foreign countries in more than one discipline and more than one establishment. To date, we have trained 10,000 foreign trainees from over 40 countries, but we like to avoid sharing what subjects they are trained in and their location for security reasons. It is a sensitive subject.”

On the Navy’s interest in procuring amphibious aircraft, he said its reach had increased and its ships were operating far and wide, from the Gulf of Aden to Southern Indian Ocean up to the Mediterranean and often to Australia on goodwill visits. Amphibious aircraft would be useful in anti-piracy operations as “you would be able to reach the pirate ship faster. The aircraft can land on water, launch rigid inflatable boats (RIBS) to go out and threaten or capture pirate ships. Amphibious aircraft have a search and rescue role as well.”

Procurement procedure

To a specific query on the Navy’s interest in Japanese ShinMaywa US-2 aircraft, he said the Navy followed a certain procurement procedure unless it was a government-to-government agreement. Though there was an Indo-Japanese joint working group looking at it, the discussions were all in the preliminary stages. The Japanese aircraft was one of the best, but whether the Navy would go for it would be a considered decision on the part of the government.

Vice-Admiral Soni said the ‘deadline’ for the induction of the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant being built at the Cochin Shipyard was end-2018. “To build a carrier is no simple task, especially if you are doing it the first time. But the shipyard has taken the challenge exceedingly well.”

The Vice-Admiral said the Navy would have, in all, 95 fast interceptor craft for coastal patrol. “The Southern Naval Command will have 16, of which four have arrived and are undergoing trials. They are carrying out regular patrols. We recently sent one up to Beypore. Hopefully next year, we will be able to deploy them in Lakshadweep also.”

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