Modernization of Indian Naval Forces – The Past, Present, and Future

Modernization of Indian Naval Forces – The Past, Present, and Future

The maritime environment of the 21st century is highly complex, influenced by constantly varying political and socio-economic currents. Technology plays an indivisible role in determining the strength of the maritime forces today making it evident that modernization is the way forward if a nation aims to establish and maintain supremacy over the waters.

When it comes to shipping, modernization is not limited to the huge frigates or stealth submarines. It encompasses all relevant spheres, from smaller boats, infrastructure, logistics and operations, to ports and service centres. Modernization entails a whole change in the basic approach towards boat building, right down to the basics. As one of the leading maritime nations in the world, India has embraced modernization as well, with the intention of becoming a technically strong adversary along its complete coastline.

Seeing these intense preparations for a modern, technologically advanced navy, one wonders what the reason is, for all these efforts – or in other words, what is the need for modernization. Add to that the fact that modernization of varying levels is implemented across all the different naval powers functioning in India, such as the Indian navy, the Indian Coast Guards (ICG), the Border Security Force (BSF), and the merchant navy to name a few.

In this article, we explore the answers to the above questions, as well as the challenges which these naval powers face in while walking the modernization road. Read on!

Need for Modernization

Among the many factors influencing the need for modernization of our naval forces, the looming threat of nations with their own political agendas is especially significant. The freedom of access offered by seas to every nation of the world makes it imperative for us to have a ready, capable force at all times.

Maritime terrorism and piracy have increased over the years as well, which threaten the social integrity of our civilization. The rampage of these activities at sea causes great loss of life and property to the detriment of the economy. To combat these activities, a modern naval force is a must.

The third reason is maritime diplomacy and regional expansion for safeguarding trade at sea. We know that 90% of India’s trade by volume is carried out by sea. The security of these goods and their efficient transportation depends to a great extent on the efficiency of the ship. Consequently, this requires modernization.

Last, but not the least, environmental considerations are a major factor influencing modernisation. Green is the new blue is gradually becoming the new mantra, as the fleet of the future is expected to be much more fuel-efficient and non-polluting than the ones we see currently.

All of these reasons why our naval forces are working towards modernization, with greater emphasis on indigenization. Let’s see how their progress has been and their plans for the future.

Modernization in Indian Navy

Of all the coastline protection forces in India, the Indian Navy is chiefly responsible for handling the military activities in our ocean territories. Consequently, the drive towards modernization has been from a military perspective, aimed at making India a strong maritime military power by 2030. According to the Maritime Security Strategy published in 2016, the Indian Navy has evolved over the years to become a multi-dimensional force, with a combination of ships, boats, submarines, and aircraft having strong satellite communication systems.

Indigenization for self-reliance and self-sufficiency is one of the primary approaches under this modernization effort, as is maritime domain awareness, power projection, and sea control. To this end, some of the projects that are on the naval horizon are:

  • Indigenous Aircraft Carrier – The INS Vikrant is under construction at the Cochin Shipyard, expected to be complete by 2023. The feasibility study for IAC-2 is also underway
  • Projects 15A and 15B – These ships are follow-ons to the Delhi class destroyers, under development at Mazgaon Docks Limited, Mumbai.
  • Project 17A – Seven stealth frigates of the Shivalik class are under construction at government and private docks.
  • Project 75 and 75(I) – The projects helms the development of 6 Scorpene submarines, some in collaboration with international manufacturers, under construction at Mumbai. The first of these, the INS Kalvari was launched in 2015.
  • Immediate Support Vessel – These are rescue boats equipped with modern life-saving equipment and made of sustainable material. An order for 14 ISVs was placed at SHM Shipcare, out of which 11 have been commissioned.
  • Training Ship – Three new training ships are under construction at ABG Shipyard, Surat.

It is evident that the Indian Navy is implementing a multi-pronged plan in developing national capabilities and simultaneously improving the supporting infrastructure for a holistic approach towards surface combat modernization.

Modernization in BSF and ICG

The unfortunate Mumbai terror attacks on 26/11/2008 were a wake-up call for the coastal security forces of India, as they exposed major security loopholes in our naval protection forces. Consequently, over the past decade, the Indian Coast Guard and the naval wing of the Border Security Force have developed slowly but consistently as a strong, mission-ready force. Precision-weapon technology, electromagnetic and LASER technologies, and improved propulsion systems are some of the advanced equipment that is powering the new-age boats and ships of these two forces.

The government has approved a five-year development plan for the coast guard to acquire offshore patrol vessels, helicopters, small boats, emergency and rescue vessels, and aircraft to tighten security gaps in the maritime web. An ambitious target of 175 ships and 110 aircraft to be manufactured by 2022 is being considered, which will be across the entire spectrum of the ICG’s responsibilities.

The Border Security Force is focused on using advanced satellite imagery and real-time tracking to keep border threats in check. The Coastal Security Scheme Phase 1 and Phase 2 are targeting the procurement of 150 boats, 75 special carrier boats, and the construction of marine police stations across 131 locations, creating a virtual coastal protection grid.

Challenges for Modernization

The road for overcoming challenges for naval modernization is far from smooth. The modernization of coastal protection forces is hampered by a lot of factors, some of which are discussed here.

  • Project Delays due to Limited Capital Allocation

The capital allocation for naval modernization has been sluggish over the years, with budget constraints leading to slashed quotas. As a result, several projects are being stalled or delayed indefinitely, till the projected expenses fall in place. This includes the postponing of several high-profile ships of the Indian fleet, which are expected to play an important role in bolstering the naval military strength.

  • Shortcomings of Existing Coast Protection

Despite the current three-tier structure of coastal protection, there have been glaring slips through the levels of the defence. There are many instances in the recent past where small boats and rouge ships have travelled close to coastline before being detected by fishermen or locals. These incidents expose the glaring shortcomings of the coastline protection forces, which does not seem to have improved although the number of boats and patrols is supposed to have increased.

Shortage of manpower and a reduction in night patrols are some of the reasons why these infiltrations have been partially successful.

  • Inadequate Training

The lack of training of coastal personnel in the new technology being implemented on boats is also one of the reasons why modernization is hampered. For efficient operation, training is a must. However, as the number of people available to train personnel is less, advanced technology cannot be used on the boat, which in turn leads to aversion towards technology.

The “Ideal” Way Ahead

Ideally, the Indian naval force is expected to become a strong maritime power by 2030. While there have been delays in projects, the country is gradually inching towards that goal and stands ready to face potential threats.

Several Indian manufacturers have taken up the initiative for indigenisation, as they provide boats and ships constructed with materials and designs from India. Companies like Siemens, Reliance Shipping Services, etc. are providing modern technology such as propulsion systems, high-intensity sensors, and other equipment, as well as manufacturing frigates and destroyer ships in their docks.

The newly inaugurated Medium Voltage Lab at INS Valsura in January 2018 is expected to be the hub of research for electric energy-efficient propulsion systems, manufactured by Siemens Limited. This marks a new step for the naval ships as they progress towards clean and sustainable technology. Similarly, smaller boat manufacturers in India like SHM Shipcare are experimenting with new sustainable materials for building small boats, such as FRP, with a focused approach towards sustainability.

What are your thoughts on India’s progress in naval modernization? Drop a comment to let us know!

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