Friday, November 4, 2011
Rs 3 lakh crore plan to boost India's naval might
NEW DELHI: Jostling for the same strategic space with China in the Indian Ocean and beyond, with the oil exploration stand-off in South China Sea being just the latest indicator, India is slowly but surely building a Navy for the future. A powerful three-dimensional Navy, which can protect India's geo-strategic interests stretching from Hormuz Strait to Malacca Strait, will not come cheap. Neither will it be built overnight. Calculations show ongoing warship, submarine and maritime aircraft acquisition programmes as well as some concrete projects in the pipeline will together cost well upwards of Rs 300,000 crore. When Admiral Nirmal Verma on Saturday commissions the second fleet tanker from Italy, the 27,500-tonne INS Shakti, Navy's force-levels will stand at 132 ships, with just over 50 "major combatants" and 14 ageing submarines. But the numbers will dip in the coming months, with older ships slated for retirement. China, in contrast, has close to 100 major warships and over 60 submarines, and is now increasingly flexing its muscles in international waters. India cannot hope to match it. The good news, however, is there are 46 ships "on order" for Navy at different domestic shipyards, along with aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (refitted Admiral Gorshkov) and three Talwar-class stealth frigates being built in Russia, say defence ministry sources. Ranging from two aircraft carriers, six submarines and seven guided-missile destroyers to four anti-submarine warfare corvettes, nine naval off-shore patrol vessels and eight amphibious craft, the combined price tag for these 50 ships comes to over Rs 100,000 crore. There are also two other major projects taking concrete shape now. One, the Rs 52,000 crore `Project-75India' to acquire six new-generation stealth submarines, equipped with land-attack missiles and air-independent propulsion, for which the global tender is now in the final stages. Six Scorpene submarines are already being constructed at Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks (MDL) for Rs 23,562 crore. Then, seven more stealth frigates are to be built at MDL and GRSE (Kolkata) under Project-17A for around Rs 45,000 crore. This will follow the three 6,200-tonne stealth frigates built at MDL for Rs 8,101 crore, INS Shivalik, INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri, with only the last now left to be delivered. Navy is also going in for new carrier-borne fighter jets and maritime patrol aircraft as well as multi-role helicopters and spy drones, which together will cost around Rs 85,000 crore. These include 45 Russian MiG-29Ks for $2 billion and 12 American P-8I long-range reconnaissance aircraft for over $3 billion. The biggest warships currently under construction are the 44,570-tonne Vikramaditya and the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) being built at Cochin Shipyard. With Vikramaditya to be inducted by early-2013 and IAC by 2015, India hopes to deploy two potent carrier battle-groups by the middle of this decade. Another lethal punch will come when India's own nuclear submarine, the over 6,000-tonne INS Arihant being built at Vizag, becomes operational next year.