• The force celebrates its raising day in a we have – we don’t scenario

By Ranjit Rai

New Delhi. Every year Indian Navy celebrates Navy Week around Navy Day on 4th December, as 4th December commemorates the day in 1971 when the new Osa class missile boats from Soviet Union ingeniously struck Karachi in Op Trident that night with their long range Rangout radars and Styx missiles, and sank three Pakistani ships off Karachi. By happenstance that morning four Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) 56A Hunters under Wing Cdr Don Conquest from Jamnagar with newly acquired drop tanks with just few minutes time on task with rockets flying a hi-lo-hi  mission, set Karachi’s oil tanks on fire at Kemari at around 0830 (PST), largely belonging to Burmah Shell.

The event went unreported with credit to the Navy as the aircraft films were not immediately processed in the ‘fog of war’. The OCU Hunters under Conquest were fueled on landing, and rushed to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan to support the Army at Longewala under heavy attacks from Pakistan. Wing Cdr Conquest was awarded a Vir Chakra for the operations.

The above two successful missions in the opening bell of the war for Bangla Desh were big blows for Pakistan as Army went into Blitzkrieg action across the border in to East Pakistan, with Mukhti Bahini volunteers and deserters from the Pakistan Army who had local knowledge of the terrain and Pakistani posts. On 8th December night the Navy repeated the missile attack off Karachi in Op Python and relit the fires on  the Kemari tanks with a  missile attack on the tanks. Research has shown Army was initially restrained in the Western Sector by the Government, and its attack plans had to be watered down.

The Osa Boats were towed with a ‘Towing Necklace’ by large ships and let loose nearer Karachi to speed away for the missile attacks on Karachi. The low silhouette of the missile boats ensured Pakistan’s radars at Badin and Karachi were unable to locate them till quite close. Pakistan Navy  headquarters at Karachi under CNS Admiral Muzaffar Hasan assumed Op Trident  was an air attack as Karachi had witnessed earlier on 4th morning. Hasan was retired on 22 December 1971. Captain Gopal Rao INS Kiltan Commander B.B. Yadav, who commanded the missile boats in Operation Trident was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. Lieutenant Commander B.N.Kavina (Nipat), Petty Officer M.O. Thomachan, Petty Officer R.N.Sharma and L.K. Chakravarty and Lieutenant Commanders Inderjit Sharma (Nirghat) and O P Mehta (Veer) received the Vir Chakra for their roles in Operation Trident. Lieutenant Commander Vijai Jerath(Nipat), was awarded the Vir Chakra for Operation Python.

This year the Indian Navy did not commission any new warships but  decommissioned three Soviet built minesweepers and an indigenously built KH-35E Uran carrying missile frigate INS Ganga built in Mumbai by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDSL) commissioned on 30th December 1985, in two separate ceremonies on 22nd and 23th March, depleting the Navy’s Order of Battle (ORBAT). The Navy has also been let down by two private shipyards. ABG Shipyard Ltd at Surat had bagged three 110 meter 4000 ton training ships on based on a design by Axsys Technologies of Singapore for around Rs 480 crores each in 2011-12, but the shipyard has declared bankruptcy. In an earlier case the Alcock Ashdown Shipyard Ltd at Bhavnagar had suspended construction of the remaining five 500 ton  Australian design Catamaran survey ships with Huggins -1000 UUV in 2015 after delivering the first INS Makar in 2012. The long standing order for the Rs 2500 crore 5 Naval Offshore Vessels (OPVs) to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence and Engineering Ltd (RDEL) at Pipavav has progressed at snail’s pace after launch of Shachi and Shruti by Mrs Preeti Luthra, wife of Vice-Admiral Girish Luthra, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command in July 2017.

But despite the drought of ships, India’s 65,000 strong Navy’s with 134 ships and 210 aircraft has lived up to its 2018 motto, ‘Combat Ready’ with over a dozen major International and national exercises with a high tempo,  and its home built Nuclear submarine INS Arihant proved Navy’s capability to join India’s Triad with under water land targeting of the  750 Km K-15 missiles on orders from New Delhi. Arihant was received and complemented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 9th November at Vishakhapatnam after its long nuclear patrol in the Indian Ocean.

As 2018 closes the Navy proudly ends the year with its  twenty first uninterrupted SIMBEX-18 in  the South China Sea with the Republic of Singapore Navy, and Konkan-18 with the Royal Navy off Goa with a modern Daring class destroyer, and a large scale tri-Service exercise off Karwar from 17th to 23rd November involving assets of the Indian Navy, and MARCOS and special forces from the Indian Army and Indian Air Force. The exercise was coordinated by the Navy’s Western Naval Command in consultation with HQIDS which saw the deployment of  Kolkata Class BrahMos fitted destroyers, Landing Ships, a Fleet support tanker and the exercise saw participation of Amphibious troops for the landings. Elements of the Indian Army and C-17, C-130J, IL-76, and AN 32 aircraft of the IAF participated with naval aircraft including P8i in the operations, and insertion of Special Forces from sea, with, ‘Combat Free Falls’ by the Tri Services Special Forces teams culminating in tactical follow up with joint operations on land and de-briefs enhancing Inter Service operational synergy.

During Navy Week there are celebrations and Navy sails ships to ports opens ships to  public and CNS takes stock of the year gone by of its achievements and plans for the future in a media conference. Co-incidentally the second edition of this years’ bi-annual Naval Commanders’ Conference-2018  was held from 2nd November in Delhi at a time when there was no movement on any of the major platforms approved  by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) since 2016-17. This includes six Project 75i submarines, four LPDs whose bids are awaiting opening by  MoD. The 65,000 ton aircraft carrier (Vishal named by media) which is being designed with US assistance in the  Defence Technology and Trade Initiative(DTTI) and  four tankers discussed with Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) and  Hyundai of Korea are on hold. This state is in sharp contrast with China’s PLA(Navy) that Chief of Naval Staff Adm Sunil Lanba admits, is adding eighteen platforms every year.

In 2018 the Trump administration has changed the name of its largest theatre command, the Pacific Command (PACOM) and renamed it as Indo Pacific Command (INDPACOM) with the common aim of likeminded nations to ensure Freedom of Navigation(FON), rule of law and stability for trade in the region. Four nations USA, Japan, Australia and India have joined in a Quadrilateral (QUAD) as a consultative grouping with China’s moves into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean in view, ruling out a Military Alliance for the present. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended G-20 in Argentina end November and joined President Trump and PM Abe in a Summit.

However the year ends well for the Indian Navy. The Mod cleared new orders to bridge the gap for survey needs, the MOD awarded a Rs. 2435.15 crore contract for design, construction and supply of four 3300 ton 110 m long Survey Vessels fitted with latest survey under water and Internet connected equipment for Indian Navy to Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) Limited, Kolkata. The contract was signed by Joint Secretary & Acquisition Manager (MS) Shri Ravi Kant on behalf of the Ministry and Director(Shipbuilding) and Cmde S Nayyar (Retd) for GRSE, outbidding GSL, Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) and two Indian Private Shipyards. The first ship is to be delivered within 36 months.

The GRSE which suffered a large crane collapse held a keel-laying ceremony for their first of three Project 17A BrahMos and Barak 8 missile fitted frigates valued at Rs 6,600 crore in Kolkata on 10th November. This marks the construction of a new class of a follow on class of the successful indigenous Project 17 (P17) Shivalik-class in service, but with BrahMos missiles. MDL had begun construction of four P17A in December 2017. India has contracted Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri of Italy to provide support to the two Indian shipbuilders for the development of integrated building in the two yards. This includes design optimization processes and modular construction; training and ongoing technical assistance for every stage of design till delivery.

The Navy successfully inducted the first of the two LR8 James Fisher Deep Submersible Rescue Vessels by marrying it with a platform and the Western Naval Command  has begun trials. Looking ahead the (MOD) cleared the acquisition of 16 shallow water anti-submarine vessels (ASW), to replace Russian-built Abhay-class corvettes commissioned in 1989 and 1991. The order is to be shared by Cochin Shipyard Ltd(CSL) and GRSE in the ‘Buy and Make India’ initiative, for around Rs 10,000 crore. The vessels will be armed with torpedoes, rockets and two 12.7 mm machine guns. MDSL has already launched two P15B destroyers Vishakhapatnam and Mormugoa but MDSL is reporting delays and cost escalation, and the indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant at CSL is delayed to 2020.

On balance the Navy has done its best with just 14% of the Defence Budget 2018-19 at Rs 40, 4195 crores from a total of Rs 295,511 crores ($42.7Bill) for Defence which is 1.4% of India’s GDP and 22% goes to the Indian Air Force and 52% for the Army. India’s maritime needs more teeth. Shan Na Varuna.