Facing increasing budgetary constraints and with several big-ticket acquisitions lined up, the Navy is looking at adopting unmanned platforms, both aerial and underwater, in a big way, Navy sources said.
However, it is firm on a third aircraft carrier and the next line of six advanced submarines under Project-75I .
This year, the Navy’s share in the capital allocation of the defence budget is ₹26,688 crore, while officials said the committed liabilities alone stood at ₹45,000 crore. “We are working on ways to manage it,” one official said.
Last year too, the Navy’s capital allocation was ₹23,156 crore, while the liabilities were ₹25,461 crore. In the past few years, the Navy’s share as a percentage of the defence budget has been going down.
As part of the fleet rationalisation plan , the Navy has cut down on the requirement of minesweepers from 12 to eight and additional P-8I long-range patrol aircraft from 10 to six. The Navy now has no dedicated minesweepers in service, and is resorting to makeshift arrangements. It has procured some autonomous underwater vehicles, and efforts are on to procure more. Similarly, the Navy operates some Israeli drones, and is in the process of procuring 10 General Atomics Seaguardian High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) armed drones from the U.S. for maritime surveillance. “It is imperative to look for more unmanned solutions,” the official said.
Recently, Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, called for a staggered approach to big procurements, and said the third carrier was too expensive, and the Navy would have to choose between submarines and a third carrier.
“As an expanding blue-water Navy with growing responsibilities, we need power projection. It is not about one over the other. We need more submarines, but we also need a third aircraft carrier so that we have two operational carriers on each seaboard at any given time,” a Navy source said. “We will push the case,” he said.
Pointing out that big-ticket procurements were inherently staggered, the source said, “Both are long-gestation projects and each has a different role. If we start planning now, it will take 10 to 15 years to get an aircraft carrier. So we cannot delay it.”
The P-75I is being processed through the Strategic Partnership (SP) route. The Navy has short-listed five foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and two Indian strategic partners, based on the response to the Request for Information and the subsequent criteria-based evaluation. “The project is on track, and there is no change in the numbers. We should be able to issue the Request for Proposal by April,” the source said.
The Navy envisages the proposed second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II) to be displacing 65,000 tonnes and conventionally powered, with a steam-launched catapult for launching and recovering aircraft. “The Navy has done a detailed study, and the specifications have been arrived at based on the requirements. The IAC-II should cost around ₹45,000 crore,” another source said, adding there were exaggerated cost estimates being quoted.
In addition, the Navy has several big-ticket acquisitions lined up. These include 111 naval utility helicopters, six additional Boeing P-8I aircraft and 13 BAE Systems MK45 naval guns.