Indian Navy is in the process of a transformation: Navy chief

Interview with the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Robin K. Dhowan 

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:30 pm IST

Published - December 01, 2014 10:02 pm IST - Kochi

Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Robin K. Dhowan. File photo: Prashant Nakwe

Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Robin K. Dhowan. File photo: Prashant Nakwe

Question: The Navy is on the cusp of a whole new era, with steady infrastructure expansion, augmentation of fleet levels and enhanced induction of personnel. How do you augment the training facilities to cater for the transformation and growth?

Answer: The Indian Navy is in the process of a transformation and that comes in largely from the implementation of our maritime capability perspective plan, which is a long-term plan where we have taken into account as to what the Indian Navy of the future will be. When we make this perspective plan, we actually project ourselves 15 years into the future. What will be the environment prevailing in our neighbourhood, in the Indian Ocean region; what will be the technologies that will be available at that point in time; what you really want the Indian Navy of the future to do; what will be the aspects related to threat perceptions at that point in time; what will be India’s state as a maritime nation and how will our maritime interests grow and hence the requirement of the security umbrella which is to be provided by the Indian Navy.

This, and many more factors we take into account and make a perspective plan. Now, when we start implementing the perspective plan, that’s what I call the phase of a transformation. And currently as you can see we have ships, submarines and aircraft being inducted into the Navy at regular intervals. At the same time, we have gone multidimensional. Last year, we had our first naval satellite Rukmini which has gone up into space. This has ensured that the Navy will have enough operational network footprint in the entire Indian Ocean Region. Along with this, there is a requirement to have the human resources induction, the manpower induction and at the same time development of infrastructure.

The Indian Naval Academy is the cradle where the actual human resources, the officers, are inducted. And since there is a requirement to meet with the induction of platforms, it has to cater for the enhanced rate of growth and enhanced rate of induction. To meet this we have the expansion plan, the need to have enhanced number of cadets to join the Navy. And so you have the phase-II expansion, which will take into account all aspects like the living accommodation, the training facilities, sports, classroom, laboratories – all aspects of academy infrastructure which are essential to give them sound training.

Question: But the Navy, though expanding, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. A spate of accidents has given it a bad name. What are the measures undertaken to ensure that the issues are tided over and quality of operations is attained?

Answer: The Navy is a highly professional service, and one that is technologically very advanced. For every action that needs to be carried out on board our ships submarines and aircraft, we need to follow procedures, the standard operating procedures, safety procedures and the like. And when these procedures are not followed, or not followed with alacrity, there are bound to be room for errors. And, when there is room for errors, accidents do happen.

The other aspect is that the lifespan of a ship or a submarine is nearly 30 to 35 years. Therefore we are bound to have our assets, nearly 50 per cent or so, which would be nearly 20 years old.

When we have older ships, the requirement of maintenance is that much more. And warships are meant to go harm’s way. They carry ammunition, fuel, which is [such] a combination that unless we follow safety procedures, accidents could happen. Therefore when we had these incidents, we took very serious view of that and we instituted safety procedures, safety audits, awareness and a culture of safety so that people are much more careful while operating the ships.

We must be aware that it’s a very difficult task that is performed by our sailors and officers out at sea. It’s not easy to operate in a submarine or on board a ship in rough weather or even normal weather when you have to grapple with so many things. And we need to understand that nobody would like accidents to happen.

It is the aspect related to so much good work that is done and when these get projected in a different manner, they do impact the good work that our sailors and officers are doing -- spending sleepless nights at sea so that our citizens can sleep peacefully. So all measures are being taken to minimise accidents.

Question : How is the issue of material failure being addressed?

Answer: Material failure is an aspect related to maintenance. Maintenance of ships and subs is undertaken by our dockyards. There’s an aspect related to offloading of certain parts of the work. And our aircraft are maintained by our aircraft repair yards. What we have had to ensure is that quality control in these refits is stringently observed. There are many organisations that are required to certify at the end of the refit that they are up to the mark. [These] have been made much more stringent so that from our dockyards, we get quality ships on time.

Question: Diminishing submarine strength has dogged the Navy for some time, but there has been no concrete step to address this. On the proposal for the next line of conventional submarines under P75I, which has been rejuvenated recently, are things moving fast?

Answer: Submarines are a very important part of the naval inventory because they help us realise our task as far as sea denial is concerned in the blue water operations. What we did firstly was to make sure that the operational-cum-refit cycles of our existing submarines was looked at very carefully to see that the operational submarines would be fully operational and combat ready. We are also undertaking an aspect related to their service life extension so that we can give them a longer lease of life—both to the Kilo-class and the SSKs.

Then we took stock of the ongoing submarine construction programme, the P75 Scorpenes, to see that there will be no further delays in their induction schedule. The first submarine will roll out in September 2016 and our intention is to speed up induction of the remaining five in a reasonable period of time. Apart from that, we have INS Chakra on lease, a very potent platform. INS Arihant is being made ready for sea trials. It will go out shortly and we are making all efforts to see that its first sea sortie takes place on completion of harbour trials.

Coming on to P75I, we have put up a proposal [for six conventional submarines] and we have had the first acceptance of necessity by the government with regard to making all the P75I submarines within the country, in Indian shipyards. This proposal is now being processed for approval at various levels and we are hopeful that this will speed up the induction of the Indian submarines.

Question: Now that we have a fully-operational INS Vikramaditya and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant getting ready for launch, are you thinking of retiring the old warhorse, INS Viraat?

Answer : We assess the aspect related to service life of a ship based on its material state and also on force-levels. As and when the time for Viraat is appropriate and we have adequate force-levels coming for induction and based on the material state of Viraat that decision will be taken.

Question: The Navy has every reason to be unhappy about the LCA Navy development programme, which has been marred by time overruns and poor pace of development. Does the Navy still need it?

Answer: It is a very important programme for us because INS Vikrant, our first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier under construction at Kochi, will be capable to operate the LCA. So it will be very important for us that the LCA programme is speeded up so that the induction can take place in a time-bound schedule. We have conveyed this to the agencies concerned and are monitoring the progress of this very closely. We hope to start the trials of this at the SBTF [Shore-based Test Facility] in Goa and pave the way for the LCAs to get inducted. Yes, there has been a delay and this is certainly a cause for concern and all efforts are being put in place to see that the progressive trials of the LCA are expedited to get this aircraft inducted.

Question: But are the makers listening and showing signs of improvement?

Answer: The responsibility [to deliver the aircraft] is that of ADA [Aeronautical Development Agency] and the HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Limited] and we have very high level periodic meetings. We have conveyed to the MoD [Ministry of Defence] and [the Department of] Defence Production our concern over the delay and it is at these high-levels that it is being monitored now.

Question: Is the Navy interested in procuring more ALH [Advanced light Helicopters] Dhruv?

Answer: We need additional ALH for our coastal security requirements. We will need them for shallow water ASW[anti-submarine warfare] requirements. Currently we use them for SAR [search and rescue] and as utility helicopters; that’s what we will be primarily using them for.

Naval aviation as such is at the threshold of major inductions at this point in time. We have inducted the MiG29 K fighter and trainer versions, which are operating from on board INS Vikramaditya. We will have additional aircraft inducted to consolidate their operationalisation process.

For long-range maritime recce, we have inducted six P8-I aircraft, based at INS Rajali [at Arakkonam]and these have been a tremendous boost as far as our long range maritime patrol is concerned because they can operate and carry out surveillance in large areas of the Indian ocean region, our primary area of interest. They are fitted with equipment and weapons for anti-submarine warfare. Two more [aircraft] will complete the first lot. And we have a case in progress, using the option clause, for four additional aircraft.

Question : An initiative of the Indian Navy which has gone a long way in building allies across the seas is IONS [Indian Ocean Naval Symposium]. It has helped the Navy build bridges of friendship with countries like Australia, traditionally believed to be an ally of China. Australia is in IONS chair now. The forum is expanding and has firmed up its charter of business. Are we now ready to take observers on board?

Answer : IONS is an Indian Navy initiative which currently has 35 member nations. Its chair rotates every two years and Australia is in the chair right now. In 2016, it will pass on to another Navy of an Indian Ocean littoral. The global commons or the blue seas or the sealines of communication as we call them are gaining new-found importance as each day goes by because the current century is the century of the seas. In that requirement, it is the maritime interests of all the littoral states which are important and safety and security at sea is not easy because sea is no longer a benign medium. Today the challenges in the maritime domain extend from piracy to asymmetric warfare to maritime terror. When you have those kind of challenges, the global commons are too huge for any Navy, however robust, to police it on its own.

Therefore, it just leads you to a conclusion that the global commons or the maritime domain lends itself for maritime cooperation. So, structures like IONS come into play. Since we look at all aspects which are of concern to friendly Navies—from piracy to pollution and HADR [humanitarian assistance and disaster relief] -- we have joint working groups debating issues in a bid to come up with solutions.

Then, we carry out exercises with friendly foreign Navies. We have our ships showing the operational footprint of the Indian Navy in our area of interest; we carry out capacity building and capability enhancement with other navies in the Indian Ocean Region so that they can come up to some standard and be part of this cooperation process.

The question of observers will have to be decided by the member nations.

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