Saturday, August 11, 2012

CNS Admiral Nirmal Verma retires

Neelam Mathews
Aug 11, 2012

I kept this as a weekend read. The grand old man of the Navy will soon be retiring and will be remembered for his candid, forthright, no-nonsense talk.

At his final press conference on Aug 7, remarking on a publication that called him reticent, he said: “I ask myself, ‘Is it too late for an old sea dog to learn new tricks?’. …. One thing that I can assure you is that the Navy has not been short of significant accomplishments over the past three years.”

Some excerpts:
I took over as the Chief of the Naval Staff, nearly three years ago, on 31 Aug 09.Through a nautical perspective, I would say we were then in the close wake of two defining events in the maritime domain; the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and the sharp increase in Piracy off the Gulf of Aden which was spreading dangerously close to our Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands.  In my first message to the Navy I had emphasized the need to focus on both ‘consolidation’ and ‘sustained growth’ ....

Getting back to the challenges of the changing operating environment; with respect to piracy, we have to a significant extent, arrested this plague.  We have had at least one ship continuously deployed, off the Gulf of Aden, since October 2008. Over 2100 merchantmen have been escorted by IN ships and 40 piracy attempts have been averted. Along with the sustained efforts of various navies and the shipping community, the success rate of piracy has dropped from 38% in 2008 to approx 11% till 2011 and even further in 2012.   It may surprise some to know that our anti-piracy operations have thus far been coordinated trilaterally with the Chinese and Japanese and in the near future this initiative could include the South Korean navy. Such are the opportunities in the maritime environment.

In 2009-10 the scourge of piracy had spread to the East Arabian Sea at times beyond 1000 nm from the Horn of Africa and closer to our waters. The Indian Navy has had a somewhat different and I dare say rather proactive approach towards combating piracy.  Proactive and effective action by Indian Navy and Coast Guard ships and aircraft resulted in the neutralization of all pirate ships operating in the region. I am happy to state that over the past year, there has not been a single incident of piracy within 300 nautical miles of our island territories on the West coast. The maritime environment is complex and  this proactive action has had some unintended consequences. As a result of the relative safety of our waters from piracy, there has consequently been a discernible shift in the International Shipping Lines (ISLs).  International shipping is now passing closer to the Indian coast due to the protection provided by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. This has resulted in an unfortunate incident of mistaken identity which resulted in the loss of innocent lives of our fishermen, such are the dangers and challenges which require to be addressed.  

I am often asked about the dichotomy of the fact that the Indian Navy which professed Blue water aspirations is now engrossed in Brown water operations.  I see no such dichotomy in our maritime strategy as we discharge our responsibilities as the lead agency for coastal security.  

Over the past three years the Indian Navy has made very significant progress towards capability accretion and this, is as intended to be, in consonance with a conceived vision and plan.  The past three years have seen the publication of three major documents – the Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan 2012-27, the XII Plan document and the XII Infrastructure Plan document. During XI Plan period, which concluded on 31 Mar this year close to 200 Acceptances of Necessity (AoNs) with a total value of Rs 2,73,070 Crs were obtained. Of these, 161 contracts with a total value of Rs 92,069 Crs have been concluded.

A record number of 15 ships have been commissioned into the Navy over the past three years, which include the three Shivalik class stealth frigates – Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri – two fleet tankers, Deepak and Shakti, one follow-on 1135.6 class stealth frigate, INS Teg, the sail training ship, Sudarshini, and eight water-jet FACs. Commissioning of  the nuclear attack submarine INS Chakra on 23rd Jan this year was a momentous occasion, as we are now part of a select group of six nations that operate SSNs. Chakra has added considerable punch to our maritime power and will aid in developing future concepts of naval operations in this very critical sphere. You are aware that the Arihant is steadily progressing towards its operationalisation, and we hope to commence sea trials in the coming months.  Given our unequivocal “no-first-use commitment” a retaliatory strike capability that is credible and invulnerable is an imperative.  The Indian Navy is poised to complete the triad, and our maritime and nuclear doctrines will then be aligned to ensure that our nuclear insurance comes from the sea. 

Our indigenous warship building program is poised to touch new heights with 43 warships currently under construction in our shipyards. These include the indigenous aircraft carrier, destroyers, corvettes and submarines. Three ships of Project 15A, which are follow-ons of the existing Delhi Class destroyers, with improved stealth features and weapon and sensor fit are scheduled for induction commencing early next year. A contract has also been signed with M/s MDL for four more P 15B destroyers, which will follow the P15A ships. Four Anti Submarine Warfare Corvettes, being built at GRSE, Kolkata, are the first stealth corvettes designed and built indigenously as specialised anti-submarine warfare (ASW) surface combatants. The first ship is scheduled to be inducted early next year and the others will follow at a yearly interval. 

The Indian Navy’s preferred choice of inducting ships and submarines has always been through the indigenous route. Today, of the 46 ships and submarines presently on order, 43 are from Indian shipyards. The intended induction programme is structured to continue at a pace such that over the next five years we expect to induct ships and submarines at an average rate of 5 platforms per year provided the yards deliver as per contracted timelines.  At the same time it would be amiss if I did not emphasize the need for our public and private sector shipyards to scale up their capabilities to deliver state-of-the-art warships that meet our future needs in time frames that match global standards.To offer a perspective, the global average for building a ship similar to a Delhi Class is about 36 months, that too with a stringent cap on man days. These are the standards that our shipyards must emulate so as to contain costs of ship building. 

There are three ships are under construction in Russia. These include two more ships of the follow-on Talwar class, being built at Yantar Shipyard in Kalingrad, with one scheduled for induction later this year and the other next year. The third ship, of course, is the Vikramaditya, which is currently undergoing sea trials. On the 28th of last month the aviation trials involving the operations of the Mig 29 K from the deck of that ship commenced.  Machinery trials are also well underway. As you may appreciate, there is hectic work underway here in India, to receive the ship with all the infrastructure support that would be required to be provided to the aircraft carrier.

On the aviation front too, eight of the world’s most advanced, state-of-the-art P-8I Poseidon, long-range maritime patrol aircraft are due to be inducted commencing early 2013. In addition, eight Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft are also planned for induction. Procurement of additional Unmanned Aerial Vehicles is being progressed to further augment our surveillance and reconnaissance capability at sea.  

I have already mentioned about the most significant aviation acquisition over the past three years - the carrier borne MiG-29K fighters. These aircraft will significantly enhance the Indian Navy’s strike capability. The first batch has already been inducted and delivery of aircraft from the follow-on contract will commence later this year. 

The rotary wing assets of the Navy are also being upgraded to induct state-of-the-art weapons, sensors and avionics. These include upgradation of the Kamov 28 and Seaking 42B.  The new inductions amongst the helicopters include the Multi-role Helicopters (MRH) for fleet ships. In addition, the Naval Utility Helicopter is also planned for induction by 2016 and the Request for Proposal should get issued any time now.   

The Indian Navy is also committed in numerous bilateral initiatives to facilitate capability building and capacity enhancement of our smaller neighbours, particularly island nations in the IOR. Towards this end we have formulated our doctrine and our efforts have been in cosonnance with the same.  These include installation of radars and AIS systems, providing assets for EEZ surveillance and hydrographic assistance. These initiatives have enhanced the Navy’s reputation as a maritime leader in the region and a professional and capable force. 

Our foreign cooperation initiatives include engaging with other extra-regional navies as well, to gain operational skills and doctrinal expertise, exchange transformational experiences, generate inter-operability and enhance our awareness in the maritime domain through a variety of information-sharing mechanisms.The growing scope and complexity of ‘Combined Exercises’ with the United States Navy, the French, the Royal Navy, the Russian Navy, the Singaporeans and South African and Brazilian Navies all contribute towards our cooperative engagement initiatives.
To reflect upon my tenure as the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee I would reiterate that I am a firm supporter of jointness and I am convinced that closer integration between the three Services is necessary for greater efficiency and economy in the long term. We have been proceeding steadily, albeit slowly on the path towards greater integration. I am of the view that this needs to be hastened, especially to ensure more effective control of our strategic forces and more efficient conduct of defence procurement, training and logistics. 

It is a matter of satisfaction, that for the first time, the LTIPP 2012-27 and the XII Defence Plan have been approved by the Defence Acquisition Council, in time. This will provide greater certainty and direction to our long term modernization plans.

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