In the aftermath of the Ladakh stand-off last year, the Navy forward deployed ships in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), was prepared for any escalation and continued to maintain good domain awareness of movements in the region, Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral R. Hari Kumar said.
The Navy, he stressed, was a well-balanced force and there was need for right balance between the number of ships and submarines in the context of a third aircraft carrier.
On the formation of integrated theatre commands, he noted that jointness and integration was not something that could happen “in a very short time”. He referred to the process by the U.S. military that took “almost” 50 years. The modalities for the Maritime Theatre Command (MTC) could be finalised by mid-2022.
“When there were tensions on our northern borders, our ships were forward deployed. Other ships were ready in case the situation escalated. We had kept their [China] ships under close surveillance, which we continue to do even now. Any of their ships coming on deployment, we keep a watch on them. We maintain fairly good maritime domain awareness in our area of responsibility,” Admiral Kumar, who assumed charge as the 25th CNS on November 30, observed.
He was addressing the annual press conference ahead of Navy Day observed on December 4.
Chinese Navy’s expansion
On the rapid expansion of the Chinese Navy in recent years and the Indian Navy’s force modernisation, he pointed out that it was not the numbers alone that mattered. “It’s also the people behind it, the choice of weapons that we have, the strategy, the operational plans and so on. It’s the effort that we can bring to bear at a particular part.”
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy had built over 130 ships in the last 10 years and emerged as the world’s largest Navy in numbers. In response to this, the CNS remarked that the Indian Navy was a “potent and well-balanced force”, which over a period of time had evolved from a small force of 33 ships to the force of today. “We don’t go into bean counting or develop capabilities in response to particular country. We develop capability based on our maritime interests. Therefore, our planning and preparedness is to ensure on how to preserve our maritime interests.”
The Chinese Navy had been present in the Indian Ocean since 2008 when it began anti-piracy patrols and maintained regular presence in the region. The
Indian Navy kept track of their deployments and what they did. “There is constant surveillance through our aircraft and our mission based deployments. Their activities and deployments are kept under close watch.” He stated.
Indigenous aircraft carrier
Talking of the need for a second indigenous aircraft carrier, he emphasised that a carrier brought in certain capabilities. “It’s not about either carrier or submarine, but the right balance between ships, submarines and aircraft”.
On the theatrisation process, he highlighted that it was a complicated procedure and not something which could be put together in a short time. An initial study was ordered, following which a detailed study was done. Further, the recommendations have been war-gamed in tabletop exercises and the third stage of the process was on.
In the proposed MTC, the command structures would largely remain in place with a lean theatre command organisation on top. “If you are looking at the tasking, at some point in time the [Navy] chief will be responsible only for raise, train and sustain while operational aspects will be handled by the theatre commander. But certainly, the chief will be in the loop of operations as he is part of the Chief of Staff Committee,” he clarified.
The 130-ship Navy had envisaged to become a 170-ship force by later this decade. However, this could change under the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan that was in the process of being revised, he said.
Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) had emerged as an important theme for cooperation in the region in recent years and the Navy had set up the Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR). The centre has established itself as the hub of maritime security information in the IOR through white shipping exchange agreements with 22 countries and one multi-national construct.
“International Liaison Officers [ILOs] from 14 countries have been invited to join the centre, of which nine have joined and the remaining are likely to join shortly,” he added.