New Delhi: The Indian Navy will acquire at least five ships every year for the next 10 years, and deploy two nuclear submarines and its new aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, in 2013.
The fast forward mode after a long lull has been mentioned both by Defence Minister AK Antony as well as navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma on different occasions, particularly at the induction of the nuclear-powered submarine INS Chakra on April 4.
Since then, the navy has inducted the first of its newly-designed Teg-class guided missile ships, INS Teg, from Russia (April 27) while plans are being firmed up for building four amphibious transport dock ships like the INS Jalashwa, as well as six new conventional submarines with air independent propulsion (AIP) and cruise missile capability.
Two INS Deepak-class fleet tankers have already been acquired from Italy to give the Indian Navy what Admiral Verma described as "Long Legs".
The navy has been very happy with INS Jalashwa, the refitted USS Trenton (LPD 14) it got rather cheap from the US Navy, particularly due to the vessel's added potential for providing disaster and humanitarian relief. It is the second biggest ship after INS Viraat, the Navy's lone aircraft carrier at present, and has comfortable crew quarters and efficient lifts.
Interestingly, naval personnel are making innovative use of cycle rickshaws to pedal across small items from one end of the vessel to the other.
Reports from Russia indicate that the much-delayed INS Vikramaditya aka Admiral Gorshkov is now ready for sea trials beginning on May 25. Fuel has been pumped into the vessel and steam is being generated before it moves into the cold waters for trials and final checks.
Russia had promised delivery to the Indian Navy by December 4, 2012. The date, according to Vice Admiral Ganesh Mahadevan, the chief of material at naval headquarters, is "cast in stone" but the delivery will be in Russian waters. The vessel should be at Indian shores in early 2013.
It may be recalled that the navy has already inducted two of the three Shivalik-class frigates in 2010 and 2011, respectively (INS Shivalik and INS Satpura), while the third in the series, INS Sahyadri, is due this year.
Admiral Verma told India Strategic earlier that while the acquisition process could be "torturous some times", adequate funds were available for the navy's modernization and that due care has also been given to its shipboard air power.
Overall, the navy has planned to acquire some 500 aircraft, about 100 of them combat jets, and the remaining for transport and surveillance roles. Helicopters form a major chunk of the proposed acquisitions.
Sources told India Strategic that the 45 MiG-29Ks that the Navy has already ordered from Russia will only be used on board INS Vikramaditya and India's first indigenous aircraft carrier now under construction. Both these will have ski jumps and arrested wire recovery (STOBAR or Short Take Off but Arrested Recovery).
Notably, the Russians have already modified the arrester wires on INS Vikramaditya to accommodate the naval variant of India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), the naval prototype (NP-1) which was test flown April 27.
India is working on two more aircraft carriers, possibly of over 60,000 tonnes, and it will take some time to select the combat jet combination for them. Those two carriers should use slingshot propulsion by steam turbines rather than ski jumps, and of course, the standard three arrestor wires.
That technology will possibly have to come from the US carriers, where slingshot takeoffs are routine. Naval teams area already in touch with manufacturers as part of the learning process, after which RfPs should appropriately be issued.
French company DCNS is already involved in making six Scorpene submarines at the Mazagon Dock in Mumbai, with a proposal to upgrade the last two of them with AIP capability, which can extend the operational submergence of a submarine from about three days to seven or so.
As for the nuclear submarines, which can stay underwater for three months, the Indian Navy is working on two or three more Arihant-class submarines, but they should progressively be equipped with more powerful nuclear reactors and weapons than INS Arihant, whose systems are now being fine-tuned.
INS Arihant is smaller than INS Chakra, but is both nuclear-powered and nuclear weapon capable (designated SSBN) while INS Chakra is nuclear-powered but has non-nuclear attack missiles (SSN).
Both the nuclear submarines are based at Vishakhapatnam on India's eastern seaboard, where work on the remaining nuclear submarines is already in progress at the Ship Building Centre (SBC) there in different stages.