Cash squeeze in mind, Navy looks at ways to cut costs


WITH INCREASED commitments and budgetary constraints, the Navy has been looking at various options such as rationalisation of requirements and international cooperation to cope with the challenges, a senior officer of the force told The Indian Express. Cost reduction is crucial, he said, with the Covid-19 pandemic hurting the economy across sectors, including defence.

“The Navy has rationalised its requirements, reduced plans,” the officer told The Indian Express, although he asserted that “nobody can come and bully India anymore”.

Although the Navy’s capital outlay increased from Rs 23,156 crore in 2019-20 to Rs 26,688 crore in 2020-21, the situation arising out of the pandemic may force changes.

With effects of the pandemic expected to remain for some time, the officer said rationalising requirements is important to deal with the downsizing of the budget. For example, he said, the Navy has revised some numbers in key acquisition projects.

It has cut down the requirement of 10 P8i surveillance aircraft to six. For minesweeper vessels, the requirement was slashed from the earlier 24 to 12. And now, the number might be further reduced to eight, although a proposal is yet to be submitted. Similarly, Landing Platform Docks, which are amphibious warfare ships, the requirement is being rationalised from the original four to two, the officer said.


The IOR challenge

With China investing heavily to become a larger global power, and India placed on the major economic maritime highway in the Indian Ocean from where a major share of China’s trade passes through, the Indian Navy’s commitment in the Indian Ocean Region is expected to increase. With budget constraints and threats on both eastern and western fronts, the Navy has rationalised its requirements and is focusing on international cooperation to plug information gaps for maritime domain awareness, keeping up with its combat capabilities.

He also cited the induction of unarmed version of SeaGuardian Predator drones from an American firm in November. While the three services have a joint demand for 30 such High Altitude Long Endurance drones, the Navy has taken two drones for surveillance on lease to plug the critical gaps.

“The Navy will do cost-benefit analysis for leasing for everything, and is willing to explore the option for everything,” the officer said.

Another project that has seen reduction in the numbers is for deck-based fighter jets. In 2017, the Navy had floated a Request for Information for 57 fighter jets from international manufacturers, but the officer said it is likely to be revised to 34 now.

The induction cycle will be timed in such a way, he said, that by the time the current fleet of Mig29k starts fading out, the gap will be met by indigenously designed Twin-Engine Deck Based Fighter aircraft being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The officer said, “The Navy is fully committed to supporting the HAL for the Twin-Engine Deck Based Aircraft.”

He said international cooperation also reduces costs along with improving own maintenance and human resource.

“Instead of having 10 ships, assets of other countries can participate together [in a mission].” Co-operation with like-minded countries is essential, he said. “We tend to economise, try and get the most bang for the buck from partnerships, sharing information with other nations,” he said.

The officer said international cooperation helps build maritime domain awareness. Giving the example of the Navy’s Information Fusion Centre- Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), which came into existence two years ago, he said there are Naval officers from other nations too.

“Due to the IFC-IOR, we have information available from various sources, to develop a comprehensive picture. The sea is open to all, your friends, your enemies, your neutrals. Now, how do you know who is an enemy, who is a friend. What we are doing is creating maritime domain awareness,” he said. By developing cooperation “to enhance the understanding of the domain, to discern who is who” helps the forces being better prepared, he said.

“To get the same information, we would have to send out more aircraft, send out more ships. We get that information, fuse it and create a picture,” he said.

Plan for maritime security coordinator

New Delhi: Setting up of a National Maritime Security Coordinator is being considered at the top echelons of the security establishment, senior Navy officials told The Indian Express. This will be in addition to Navy’s proposal, which is being considered by the Cabinet Committee on Security, to form a National Maritime Domain Awareness Center — a multi-agency forum of the Navy, Coast Guard, Intelligence agencies and state marine police forces among others for stronger integration for maritime security. —ENS

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