As the world watched the Russian Naval fleet marching towards the ports of Ukraine, the lessons for India are intact and have to be learned sooner, keeping the best interests in mind. The budgetary allocation for FY 2022-23, reflecting the strategic significance and multidimensional role of the Indian Navy as the need of the hour following its spending of 90% of the capital outlay ahead of the other two forces, is widely appreciated. In lieu, its impact on multifaceted strategies and desired outcomes calls for closer evaluation.
The ongoing events in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) are crucial for India’s Maritime security. This is chiefly necessitated due to the rapidly expanding presence of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which is the fastest-expanding maritime force. As an anti-piracy escort force, the PLAN has been permanently present in the IOR accompanied by their submarines since 2008. Locations ranging from Columbo, Hambantota, the Gulf of Thailand, and Malacca Strait to Seychelles, Dar es Salaam, Djibouti, Gulf of Aden, Gwadar and Karachi are viewed as the linchpins to set China’s footprints, to name a few. This is another cue for us to realize that the maritime front holds the key to global dominance in the IOR as an account of its strategic and economic significance. Being the world’s busiest trade route that amounts up to 80% of the world’s Maritime oil trade, it is crucial for India to take a leap in this direction.
The former Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba (Retd.) had stated that the, “Chinese Navy is a force and it is a force that is here to stay”. PLAN has been ambitious to deploy aircraft carriers with battle fleets and realize China’s national interests on a global basis by 2049. Indian Navy has been proactive by fully deploying in key areas and real-time surveillance bolstered by the France and QUAD allies along with the plans to commission INS Vikrant and build Nuclear powered Submarines. By terming the growth of Chinese Navy as a threat in it’s annual report, U.S has emphasized the ‘valuable operational and tactical experience’ gained by China from the recent LAC stand-off with India. While realignment of the forces was the immediate step necessitated for India, reorientation of the Navy specifically it’s “Air Arm” wing which currently operates primarily with ‘INS Vikramaditya’, calls for more attention with long-term perspective on the table.
After tri-services made progress by spending the capital outlay of 64% on domestic equipment in FY 2021-22, the current budget for FY 2022-23 has hiked the capital procurement reserved for domestic equipment to 68%. The Ordnance Factory Board is converted into 7 Defense Public Sector Undertakings in order to amplify it’s efficiency and autonomy along with the release of the negative import list. The Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan (INIP) 2015-2030 was the first of its kind to underscore the role of domestic manufacturing in the future Naval architecture. Further giving a boost to this, the key highlight was 25% of the defense R&D budget being earmarked for collaboration with private sector industries, startups and academia. These measures are projected to give a fillip to well-resourced domestic industrial bodies by expanding their outreach to equipment design and development via Special Purpose Vehicles by collaborating with DRDO and similar organizations. Additionally, testing and certification being handled by an independent body is expected to ensure lessened margin for errors and timely approval. Despite the projected growth, R&D allotment remains slimpicked at conservative Rs.11,981 crores thus limiting the anticipated advancements.
Albeit these dynamic measures during these crucial hours are laudable, there is still delay and non-attainment of the projected goals which demands greater administrative flexibility. For instance, the count of warships induction by 2027 as laid out by Indian Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) has been scaled down from 200 to 170 vessels adding to the delay in the timeline. The defense sector was no exception during the pandemic as was reflected by the delay in the timely execution of payments and delivery as set in the contracts. A way ahead from this roadblock can be the setting up of MFDIS (Modernisation Fund for Defence and Internal Security) as suggested by the 15th Finance Commission. The non-lapsable nature of this fund is streamlined as a capital investment towards modernization that can compensate for the delay and aid in unforeseen circumstances.
Notably most of the current measures are confined to addressing the quantitative aspects whereas the sector building in defense is a long-term and comprehensive process that also needs quality enhancement to achieve the envisioned preparedness. Hence, going further there are questions around opting for the non-indegineous routes coerced due to the lack of seasoned upgradation of the defense equipment by DRDO and other bodies. So, it’s time for the manufacturing units to move from a demand driven approach to an innovation-based model to ensure the time bound delivery of equipment while customizing to match the technological advancement. This can go a long way in countering the threats both above water and below. Ultimately, sustenance of all these measures at least for the next 4-5 years is an indispensable aspect to contemplate the desired outcomes for the maritime security of India.