In an exclusive interview to OneIndia, ahead of the Navy Day on December 4, the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R K Dhowan said that the Indian Navy's structured phase of transformation has received a boost with the launch of the dedicated satellite -- Rukmini -- last year.
The country's maiden dedicated military satellite Rukmini (GSAT-7) was launched by the Arianespace from French Guiana in April 2013, giving Indian Navy more teeth for its missions in the IOR.
"Currently ships, submarines and aircraft are being inducted into the Navy at regular intervals. We have gone multi-dimensional and the Rukmini satellite has ensured that the Navy will have an operational network footprint in the IOR," Admiral Dhowan told OneIndia during his recent visit to the Indian Naval Academy (INA) in Ezhimala (Kerala).
LCA Navy delay is a matter of concern
Admiral Dhowan said that the delay in the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Navy programme has been taken up seriously. "It's an important programme for us and we have the IAC (Indigenous Aircraft Carrier) in Kochi getting ready and the SBTF (Shore Based Test Facility) waiting for LCA Navy. It's important that the programme is speeded up," he said.
He said the Navy was monitoring the progress of the project closely. "We have conveyed our concerns to the agencies concerned. We hope to start the trials of LCA Navy at SBTF at the earliest. The delay has been a cause of concern. We have also conveyed our concern to the Ministry of Defence and the defence production officials," he said.
More roles for ALHs; aviation arm on a threshold
He said for the Navy is looking for additional ALHs for enhanced maritime operations in the IOR. To a specific query whether the Navy would go for weaponised versions of ALH, the Navy Chief said: "Our requirements are different. Now we are using them for SAR (search and rescue) operations and as a utility copter. In future, we want the ALHs for shallow water ASW (anti-submarine warfare) requirements. So we hope to get the best ALHs."
He said the naval aviation is on a threshold with the induction of new assets. "We have the MiG 29 Ks (both fighter and trainer) flying onboard INS Vikramaditya. More MiG 29Ks will be inducted soon to consolidate their operational process from an aircraft carrier. We have inducted six P8-Is at Rajali and two more will join to complete the first slot. We have a case in progress to explore the option clause for four more," he said.
He said the rotary UAV programme undertaken by the DRDO has been very slow. "We have taken note of the delay in the project. We have given lots of impetus to the project in the last two years. We have laid down stringent timelines and conveyed the same to DRDO for an early solution. We have seen some progress on this front now," the Admiral said. He said the Navy's relationship with DRDO is that of a synergy.
Arihant's first sea sortie shortly
The Navy Chief said that all efforts have been made to ensure that the operational submarines are fully operational and combat-ready. "We are also undertaking an aspect related to the service life extension of these submarines so that we can give them longer lease of life," he said.
"We took stock of the ongoing submarine construction ‘Project 75' programme (Scorpene) at the Mazagon Dockyards Limited. We have given a deadline of September 2016 for the first submarine to come out, followed by five more," he added.
The Navy Chief said that India's nuclear submarine Arihant will have its first sea sortie shortly soon after its harbour trials.
Quality control at dockyards made stringent
When asked about the growing number of accidents being reported in the Navy during the last one year, the Navy Chief said that if the procedures are not followed with alacrity, accidents do happen.
"The Navy is a highly professional service driven by technology advancements. For every action carried out onboard our assets we need to strictly follow all the procedures. When we don't follow them, there will be room for errors leading to accidents," he said.
Saying that 50 per cent of naval ships are almost 20 years old, he said safety procedures cannot be overlooked even once.
"The lifespan of a ship or submarine is around 30-35 years. It's not easy to operate on a submarine or a ship while we work in a very challenging environment. When we have older ships we have to be extra careful while maintaining them. Nobody would like accidents to happen. Our sailors and officers spent sleepless nights so that our citizens can sleep in peace. All measures have been taken, including safety audits, to ensure that accidents can be minimized," the Navy Chief said.
He said the material failure is an aspect related to maintenance. "There are many agencies involved at our dockyards. The quality control at our dockyards has been made stringent," he said.
Manpower induction and development of infrastructure key
He said the Navy is gearing up to add more manpower with more assets being inducted on a regular basis. "Man power development and development of infrastructure are two key factors for the Indian Navy now. Since we are inducting more ships, submarines and aircraft, we are focusing more on the human resources now. The INA is the cradle for human resources development of officers and it has to cater to the enhanced rate of induction. We have set our sight on the Phase-II expansion of INA now," Admiral Dhowan said.
He said the Phase-II will take into account the living accommodation, training facilities, classrooms, sports facilities sound education and training. "We would want INA to impart the highest quality of training available," he said.
‘A salute to remember' photo inspires the Chief
The Navy Chief expressed his happiness over the photograph of a special child saluting with the title ‘A salute to remember' going viral on the social media.
"I am touched by this photo. Indian Navy needs more such inspiring moments. Glad you could capture this. An inspiring image for the Indian Navy when we are heading for Navy Day celebrations," the Chief told OneIndia.
The photo was captured by this writer outside the INA main gate on November 28. It was a mere coincidence that OneIndia was present while Sandeep (a special child) was saluting Rajeev (of the Naval Police). Sandeep is a student of Sneha Nilaya Special School, Kaakanaadu (Kochi) and had visited the INA along with other children as part of Indian Navy's outreach programme.
The Chief also said that the Navy would become more visible on social media platforms. "We are looking at the pros and cons on taking to the social media. We would certainly want better visibility," Admiral Dhowan said.
(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)