Why INS Kolkata’s coming induction is welcome

Exactly two months after he embarked on India’s biggest warship, the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will once again visit a naval establishment to commission an indigenously built stealth destroyer. On 16 August, INS Kolkata, built at the Defence Public Sector Unit, Mumbai-based Mazgaon Docks Ltd will be joining the Indian Navy, further enhancing its capability.

With an operating range of 15,000 km, INS Kolkata, first of the three such ships that will join the Indian Navy in the next few years, is equipped to play a varied role. It has an in-built anti-submarine capability, can take on anti-ship missile and a fighter aircraft. It will the first Indian ship to be armed with the land attack, anti-ship Brahmos missile, again manufactured in India with Russian collaboration.

These capabilities give INS Kolkata an ability to operate without supporting fleet of ships. With an integral hanger and a landing deck for a helicopter, the guided missile destroyer will add teeth to the 140-ship strong Indian Navy, currently undergoing a massive expansion.

Although its delivery has been delayed way beyond the deadline, Kolkata’s induction will further boost the confidence of Indian shipbuilders. With 44 ships of varying shapes, capability and size under construction in Indian shipyards, the Navy is betting big on local expertise to build and enhance its fleet in the coming decade.

The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence was informed last year that while Indian shipyards have made remarkable progress in building hulls and associated equipment but still lag behind in building and manufacturing weapons and sensors.
Traditionally the Indian Navy has sourced most of its ships from the former Soviet Union but over the past decade, defence planners have leaned hard on Indian shipbuilding yards to deliver a variety of warship for the Indian Navy.

The big picture is indeed positive. Its long-term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan had identified a mix of two major roles for the force: One, the traditional blue water operational capability and two, a plan to effectively counter threats closer to the coast. It is steadily working towards achieving that objective.
In April 2012 a new naval base, INS Dweeprakshak (Island Protector) was put into operation at Kavaratti in Lakshawadeep, the tiny island chain, southwest of mainland India. Although the Indian Navy has had a small presence on the strategically important islands for the past decade, its decision to open a permanent base emanated from recent incidents of piracy very close to these islands. 
The Navy is also in the process of setting up Operational Turn Around (OTR) bases, Forward Operating Bases and Naval Air Enclaves along the coast, which would enhance the reach and sustainability of its surveillance effort on both the coasts. From 2011 onward, the Navy focused on creating operational and administrative infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, considered the country’s strategic outposts.
Another capability the Indian Navy quietly added in Novmber 2013 was a dedicated ccommunication satellite. The satellite is described as a force multiplier by senior naval officers. It covers the Navy’s entire area of interest in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The satellite handles all data transfers for maritime domain awareness and the entire range of communications and networking needs of the Indian Navy. “It brings an entirely new dimension in network operations and in maritime operations,” Former Navy Chief Adm DK Joshi had told me last November, speaking about the satellite for the first time in the public domain.
Given the extensive plans presented to Parliament, it is evident now that the Indian Navy is in the midst of its most ambitious expansion plan in the past three decades. Senior officers point out that the Indian Navy’s perspective-planning in terms of force-levels is now driven by a conceptual shift from numbers of platforms – that is, from the old bean-counting philosophy – to one that concentrates on capabilities.
All the more reason why the Indian Navy–as indeed the other two armed forces–must eschew nepotism and favoritism in promoting officers beyond their capabilities.