Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Thursday said the Indian Navy is moving towards procuring a number of key assets including six more submarines and a batch of potent drones, and pitched for a third aircraft carrier even as he asserted the force is fully ready to deal with any challenge including from China.
Admiral Singh also said the COVID-19 pandemic and attempts to change the status quo at India's northern borders have thrown up challenging situations, adding the Indian Navy aimed to stand steadfast as a "combat ready, credible and cohesive force", furthering the country's national and maritime interests.
Addressing a press conference on the eve of Navy Day, he said the Navy has put in place a standard operating procedure in the event of any infringement of its maritime domain in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) by China. He said Chinese research ships and fishing vessels had been deployed in the IOR but there had been no infringement on Indian maritime zones.
Asked about the rapid expansion of the Chinese People's Liberation Army(PLA) and possible challenges from it for India, the Chief of Naval Staff said the Indian Navy was cognisant of it, and was focusing on boosting its overall combat prowess including by procuring niche capabilities and unmanned solutions with available resources.
"As a primary manifestation of India's maritime power, the Indian Navy stands ready to fulfil its mandate to protect our national interests in the maritime domain."
Admiral Singh also said the Navy was looking at establishment of maritime theatre command in the near future which would further buttress joint planning and application of force in the maritime domain. He said the Andaman and Nicobar tri-services command will be part of the proposed maritime command.
"The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and permeated every aspect of our lives. The near simultaneous attempt to change the status quo at our northern borders has significantly increased the complexities in our security situation. This dual challenge scenario continues as we speak and the country collectively continues to battle the pandemic and tackle the security challenges," he said.
Referring to the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, the Naval chief said Indian Navy's surveillance aircraft P-8I and Heron drones were deployed in the region on several occasions.
"The P-8I is a potent platform. Based on the requirements of the Army and the IAF we have deployed the P-8I on several occasions. We have also deployed the Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from one of the northern bases, he said. "Whatever we are doing is in close coordination and synergy with the Army and the Indian Air Force to produce desired results." India and China are locked in a nearly seven-month long military standoff in eastern Ladakh.
On acquisition of a third aircraft carrier, Admiral Singh said the Navy considers it as an absolute necessity, and it will make a formal case to the government after collating technical details. India currently has one aircraft carrier -- INS Vikramaditya, and a second one --INS Vikrant-- is under construction. The construction of INS Vikrant is at an advanced stage and its sea trials are expected to commence in early 2021.
Admiral Singh said the Navy will soon take forward the process of acquiring six more submarines as well as a plethora of other assets including six P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft. He also said the issue of procuring 30 medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) Predator drones for the Navy, the Indian Air Force and the Army is moving forward, and added his force is looking at taking on lease various platforms like unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters.
The Navy Chief also said the Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) programme has been taken under the strategic partnership model. The Indian Navy had issued a global request for information (RFI) or an initial tender for the procurement of 111 naval utility helicopters under the strategic partnership model that involves a foreign entity and a domestic defence major.
"We are going to the government for shorlisting of the companies." Admiral Singh said the Navy was also planning to procure SMASH 2000 rifles which will be deployed for anti-drone role. Elaborating on the plan to acquire six submarines under the Project75-I programme, he said the matter will be taken up at the next meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC).
The DAC is the defence ministry's highest decision-making body on procurement. Asked about plans for procurement of jets for aircraft carriers, the Navy Chief said his force was looking for an indigenously developed deck-based plane by 2023. On the Navy's overall focus, he said it has established a persistent foot-print in its areas of interest including at various choke points in the Indian Ocean.
"Naval deployments also serve as a deterrent to inimical interests, really signalling the Navy's reach, capability and intent." Talking about giving more responsibility to women in the Navy, he said four women officers were appointed for duties in ships this year.
On the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition among India, the US, Australia and Japan, Admiral Singh said it is not against anybody, and he personally felt that cooperation under the grouping will grow organically depending on the challenges facing the member nations. He also noted there is a difference between the Quad drill and last month's Malabar naval exercise that featured all the four member nations of the grouping.
"I would like to differentiate between Quad and Malabar because Malabar is an exercise which has been going on since 1992 and it is more of a professional exercise among the participating navies," he said. India had invited Australia to be part of the Malabar exercise this year that effectively made it a drill by all the Quad member nations.
Asked whether Australia will be part of next year's Malabar exercise, Admiral Singh said: "I am not ready to speculate. Next Malabar will be hosted by the US. We will have to look at what decision the government of India takes on inclusion of Australia." On the missing pilot of the MiG-29K that had crashed recently, Admiral Singh said the search operation was going on, and "we are hoping for the best".
He said the sonar locator beacon on board the aircraft was working and that is why the Navy could trace the wreckage of the aircraft. He also said the forward seat on which the missing pilot was seated has not been found. On military reforms, he said the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has helped in addressing a number of difficult issues.
Highlighting Indian Navy's commitment to 'self reliance in defence production', he said all 24 ships and submarines commissioned into the Navy over the last six years have been built in India. "Further, of the 43 ships and submarines, currently under construction, 41 are being built at Indian shipyards. These include the Aircraft Carrier--Vikrant, P-15B Class Destroyers, P17A class stealth frigates and scorpene class submarines," he added.