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India is keeping a close watch on China’s focus on navy, says Indian Navy chief

PTI New Delhi | Updated on July 25, 2019 Published on July 25, 2019

Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh (File photo)   -  Sandeep Saxena

A day after the Chinese Defence Ministry released a white paper on its military development, Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Thursday said that a lot of resources have been shifted to the PLA Navy from other arms of the People’s Liberation Army and India will have to “watch it carefully”.

The white paper titled ‘China’s National Defence in the New Era’, released in Beijing on Wednesday, touched upon various aspects of its military development comparing with India, US, Russia and other countries.

“It is not just the Chinese white paper, it has been said in the past also. Lot of resources have been shifted from other arms to the PLA Navy, obviously in line with their intention to become a global power. We have to watch it carefully and see how we can respond within our budget and the constraints that we have,” Singh told reporters on the sidelines of an international seminar here on shipbuilding.

Responding to a question on the second indigenous aircraft carrier, the Navy chief said, “Our plan is to build a 65,000-tonner possibly with electrical propulsion and CATOBAR.” CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery or Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) is a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier.

To a question on naval budget, he said, “We require long-term fiscal support to build a navy, that is the only way we can plan. And, this has been my constant refrain.”

Earlier, in his address at the seminar titled, ‘Nation Building through Shipbuilding’ held at FICCI here, Singh said that he was confident that the proceedings of the seminar would prove to be a springboard for implementable ideas for shipbuilding in India.

“The government has announced plans to take the country on a trajectory of USD 5 trillion economy by 2024. And, I think shipbuilding can contribute immensely to this endeavour,” he said.

Investing in shipbuilding

Singh asserted that the Navy is fully invested in encouraging an indigenous shipbuilding ecosystem, and 50 years before ‘Make in India’ became a national mission, the Navy took formative steps towards it through creation of an in-house ‘Central Design Office’ in 1964.

The Navy has, to date, designed more than 90 warships across 19 different classes. With more than 130 platforms constructed in Indian shipyards since the first ship INS Ajay was constructed by GRSE in 1961, Naval shipbuilding could be counted as one of the success stories of India, he said.

“This is testimony to the synergy between the Navy and industry, as also our commitment towards self-reliance. Yet, we must acknowledge that this journey from a ‘Buyers Navy’ to a ‘Builders Navy’ has been an arduous one,” the Navy chief said.

Also, shipbuilding, being a capital intensive activity, has created a narrative where budgetary allocation for naval shipbuilding is considered by some to be a drain on the economy, he said. “Yet, I would argue that investing in naval shipbuilding is far from a fiscal drain. The first reason for that is the ‘plough-back effect’,” the Navy chief said.

“By conservative estimates, a very large proportion of every rupee spent on the Navy is ploughed back into the Indian economy. To start with, more than 60 per cent of the Naval budget is dedicated to capital expenditure. Nearly 70 per cent of this capital budget has been spent on indigenous sourcing, amounting to nearly Rs 66,000 crores in the last five years,” he said.

Also, since the launch of ‘Make in India’ in 2014, 80 per cent AoNs (Acceptance of Necessity) on cost basis have been awarded to Indian vendors. Of the total 51 ships and submarines on order at various shipyards, 49 are being constructed indigenously. This highlights the considerable levels of plough-back into the economy, he added.

The second contribution of Naval shipbuilding is as a catalyst for employment generation and skill development, which are present-day real challenges faced by the nation.

Apart from individual skilling, naval projects also lead to creation of new capacities within shipyards. These are crucial spin-offs for the economy, he said. “India’s largest dry-dock under construction at Cochin Shipyard, for instance, would enable servicing larger sized commercial ships, apart from aircraft carriers, which was one of the prime-movers for the project,” he said.

Diplomatic engagements

Singh said the projects contribute to strategic outcomes for the nation as well. “We all know that multi-dimensional, state-of-the-art, ships constructed by our industry, and operated by the Navy and the Coast Guard, are crucial to protecting India’s maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond.

“In addition Navy’s diplomatic engagements and capacity building efforts have also allowed several friendly countries to harness our ship-building prowess,” he said. “We have already added to the capacities of friendly nations, such as Seychelles, Maldives and Sri Lanka to name a few, by exporting warships that enhance their overall security,” the Navy chief added.

As India’s shipbuilding industry matures, there is immense potential to forge strategic partnerships and convert India into a strategic hub for defence shipbuilding exports and repairs to friendly foreign countries, Singh said.

Former Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba in his address touched upon the ancient maritime legacy of India and the tremendous potential the shipbuilding sector possess.

Published on July 25, 2019

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