Although the smallest of the three armed forces, the Indian Navy is now getting the maximum attention from military planners at the highest levels, recent budget figures and perspective plans indicate.
Last week's naval commanders' conference in New Delhi, for instance, decided to augment naval manpower by 15 per cent over the next five years so as to be ready for enhanced force levels when several new assets, including ships and aircraft, get inducted into the Indian Navy.
Take a look at the list of current and near future acquisitions: Two stealth ships -- INS Shivalik and INS Satpura -- were commissioned recently. Four more guided missile frigates will be inducted over the next five years. In addition, four anti-submarine corvettes, four guided missile destroyers, three stealth frigates, six Scorpene submarines (being built at Mazagon Dock Ltd with French technology and help) and two nuclear-powered submarines will be joining the navy.
According to an official press release by the Navy, its aviation arm is also set to grow in the years ahead. "The first lot of MiG 29K aircraft for INS Vikramaditya had been inducted this year and the rest are expected to be delivered in phases. A major milestone was the first flight of the P8I maritime patrol aircraft in September this year. This aircraft is on schedule for its induction in 2013.
"Progress has also been made in the last few months over the induction of ships, with contracts for five offshore patrol vessels, two cadet training ships, eight amphibious landing craft and fast interceptor craft having been concluded."
Parliament records show that the defence ministry has consistently earmarked additional funds for the Navy. Between 2007 and 2010, the Indian Navy has spent over Rs 30,000 crore on capital acquisition alone, a healthy jump of about 20 per cent over the previous five years.
According to a spokesperson, Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma told his commanders that highest priority was being accorded in creating forward operating bases, operational turnaround bases and naval air enclaves on the mainland and in the islands at the earliest.
The plan is to create three forward operating bases (at Campbell Bay, Diglipur and Kamorta in Andaman and Nicobar Islands), two naval air enclaves (at Shibpur in Andaman and Karwar) and two operational turnaround bases (in Paradip and Tuticorin), most of which would be ready by 2013.
This is in keeping with the change in focus with respect to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. According to top defence sources, the government is seriously engaged in evolving a medium- to long-term strategy to use the natural advantage that this group of 527 islands present to India in projecting its influence further east in the extended neighbourhood.
In New Delhi, it is now recognised that these islands, because of their rich resources of marine wealth and potential for natural oil and gas and their proximity to littorals coupled with the possibility of extra-regional players extending their influence in the region, are vulnerable to both conventional as well as sub-conventional threats.
India's only tri-services formation, the Andaman Nicobar Command, is now all set for expansion. So far its primary role has been to provide safety and security in the Andaman Sea region.
The responsibility is now enhanced with the CINCAN (commander-in-chief, Andaman Nicobar command) also being designated as the commander-in-chief, coastal security command, for the A&N region.
According to a recent report on NDTV, an Indian news television channel, a comprehensive plan to upgrade and strengthen the AN command has been cleared at the highest level. It includes:
- Allocation of two full-fledged Army brigades
- Placing of at least a dozen combat aircraft permanently
- Upgradation of anti-submarine warfare capability
- Creation of a joint squadron of amphibious surveillance aircraft
Clearly, the government is now focused on making the Indian Navy a truly blue water force in the coming decade and to strengthen the strategically important AN command to be ready for what many believe will be a future battle for supremacy in the Indian Ocean region between Indian and China.