Interview Chief of the Naval Staff

Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Naval Staff, holistically addressed a wide range of contemporary maritime and security related issues in an exclusive interview with SP Guide Publications team. Details of the interaction are as follows:

Photo(s): By SP's Team
Admiral Sunil Lanba Chief of the Naval Staff

SP Guide Publications (SP’s): Heartiest congratulations on taking over the helm of the Indian Navy. What is your vision on taking Indian Navy further forward on higher growth trajectory and capability augmentation to emerge as one of the biggest and reckonable naval forces in the world?

Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS): India is a maritime nation and history is replete with examples that unhindered use of the seas is critical for national prosperity. Over the years, the Indian Navy’s endeavour has been towards creating and sustaining a combat ready, technology enabled and networked force, capable of safeguarding our maritime interests and projecting appropriate maritime power in our areas of interest. In line with our vision, today the Indian Navy is a Blue Water Navy, deploying a balanced force of modern assets in all the three dimensions capable of progressing operations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. To protect our offshore and coastal assets, the Navy has a variety of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and other smaller craft, such as the Fast Attack Craft (FAC), Immediate Support Vessels (ISVs) and Fast Interceptor Craft (FIC) that operate in close coordination with various Central and State agencies to strengthen this critical area.

Our Navy’s asset induction projects are being progressed as per our perspective plan, and a number of ships, submarines and aircraft would be inducted over the next few years and would significantly boost our capabilities. These include the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (Vikrant), destroyers, frigates, landing platform dock, corvettes, offshore patrol vessels and cadet training ships, to name a few. The years ahead would also see the growth of submarine fleet with induction of the Scorpene class submarines.

The Indian Navy also plans to induct aircraft including additional P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, Dornier medium-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, medium-range helicopters, naval utility helicopters, and advanced light helicopters to bolster its Naval Air Arm. The Indian Navy would also continue to operate a variety of remotely piloted aircraft.

In tandem with induction of our assets, we are augmenting our infrastructure for support, maintenance and training. We have given particular attention towards enhancing awareness amongst the youth, with regard to the Navy as a career option, and this is bearing desired results. After all, it is the men and women behind the machine which make Indian Navy one of the finest services.

SP’s: Being a naval thoroughbred groomed over 38 years, you have emerged as a forthright and most competent naval commander. As the Chief of the Naval Staff what would be your message to All Hands in the Navy on their conduct and the roles and responsibilities that the nation has assigned to the Indian Navy as a whole?

CNS: It is indeed a singular honour to take over the helm of our very fine service. Today, Indian Navy is the prime manifestation of maritime power of our great nation.

The seas and oceans around us are not only the lifelines for domestic and international trade, but also render themselves as a rich source of natural resources. Our economic growth, development and energy requirements are very largely dependent on the oceans. There is a growing realisation of the importance of the seas, and therefore, it is no surprise that there is a resurgence of maritime interests in our country. Maritime security is accordingly high on our national security agenda. The Indian Navy remains fully aware of the responsibilities that are bestowed upon it by the nation and is maintaining a steady watch.

Our processes are aimed at being operationally ready at all times capable for deployment across all spectrums of tasks. We are providing contemporary training to our personnel so that they retain their operational edge. Our maintenance philosophy ensures that we have optimum availability of assets. Finally, our support mechanisms and welfare measures are implemented in a manner so that our personnel can stay fully focused on their professional roles.

I have implicit faith in the abilities of our personnel, who are our greatest strength and enablers. Our personnel are well trained, highly capable, motivated and thorough professionals to shoulder the responsibility of safeguarding the nation’s maritime frontiers and our national interests in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Our personnel remain fully committed to successfully complete every assigned mission and fulfil their duties towards ship, navy, nation, anytime, anywhere, and every time.

SP’s: You have taken over as CNS at momentous times when India is being recognised as a fast growing regional power of significance, with commensurate geopolitical, geoeconomic and geostrategic interests in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), Indo-Pacific, South East Asia, etc. consequentially the added responsibilities on the Indian Navy to be a ‘Net Security Provider’. What are your views on the capability of Indian Navy to shoulder such dynamic challenges?

CNS: India’s unique maritime geography, with a central location and reach across the Indian Ocean Region, has underscored India’s relationship with the seas. India’s maritime economic activities have continued to expand across the vast range, including energy security, seaborne trade, shipping and fishing, with substantial Indian investments and citizens overseas. Today, our nation has an overwhelming reliance on the seas for our external trade and for sustaining our energy needs. These maritime activities have lent a pivotal role to the security of our Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) and enhanced importance of the sea routes, international shipping and freedom of navigation for our national interests. Of equal significance are India’s relationships with our maritime neighbours in the Indian Ocean and other areas where our national interests lie; and these are deeply rooted on the principles of cooperative and inclusive development. These have been the key determinants for shaping our maritime security strategy. In recent years, India’s maritime security drivers in the Indian Ocean have shown increasing complexity, covering both traditional and nontraditional threats. Together, these have increased the security threats and challenges spread across our maritime neighbourhood and adjacent areas.

To enhance our maritime security and support our national interests, India is committed towards safe and tranquil seas in keeping with the national vision of Safety And Growth for All in the Region, i.e. SAGAR. The Indian Navy therefore seeks to shape a favourable maritime environment by creating conditions of security and stability at sea wherein the various threats are kept at a relatively low level. Further, to create a positive maritime environment, the Indian Navy will progress actions that will shape conditions that would prevent or contain any rise in threats. We would pursue these through an inclusive and collective approach working closely and supporting our immediate and extended maritime neighbours. Our broad principles of net maritime security to guide our actions include, ‘preserving peace’, ‘promoting stability’ and ‘maintaining security’. Our key actions for net maritime security include ‘presence and rapid response of our maritime forces’, ‘proactive maritime engagement’, ‘capacity building and capability enhancement initiatives’, ‘developing regional Maritime Domain Awareness’ and ‘contributing to maritime security operations’. Together, these would contribute towards providing net security in the areas of our maritime interest.

SP’s: To spread and enhance the Maritime Domain Awareness within the region, Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) was a unique initiative by the Indian Navy towards instituting several confidence building measures through exchange programmes, seminars, conferences, joint exercises, all aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and cooperation during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and such like contingencies. How in your assessment of the IONS initiative flourishing over the years and what more value additions can be obtained from the forum?

CNS: Indian Navy’s contribution towards Indian Ocean Naval Symposium gaining traction and visibility since its inception in 2008 is indisputable. Activities under the ambit of IONS envisaged and implemented by Indian Navy are now central to its functioning. Cooperation in the field of HADR, anti-piracy and information sharing are the major focus areas of IONS which have progressed well through the working groups formed for these disciplines. The efficacy and importance of IONS can be gauged from the fact that many extra-regional powers want to join the construct as observers, which currently has 23 members and seven observer states. The commentary of think tanks and media in various professional journals have also articulated IONS as an important construct of the 21st century to promote maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the IOR. The efforts of the Indian Navy to promote IONS have reached a point from where the desired strategic dividends can be leveraged by member nations. The three Working Groups are developing various standard operating procedures (SOPs) to bring in synergy amongst member nations with a view to undertake HADR and tackle non-traditional maritime threats.

SP’s: In addition to IONS there are several other multilateral forums which have evolved over the years with all leading navies such as UK, US, European navies, South Africa, Brazil, Australia, Russia, China, East Asian navies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, some Gulf countries navies, etc. not just for anti-piracy missions but also for greater cooperation, understanding of each other’s operating philosophies, communication exchanges at sea to obviate possible crisis situations. To what extant have the stated objectives realised and what further improvements can be expected from such interactions?

CNS: There has been an increase in both bilateral and multilateral maritime interactions. While there are several multilateral forums, IONS has been a unique initiative in bringing together IOR navies with the objective of addressing regional maritime challenges by leveraging the strength of regional partners. Multilateral interactions, be it through fora such as IONS or Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) or through multilateral exercises such as Ex Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) or Ex ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Plus, contribute immensely to enhancement of overall maritime security and stability. They provide opportunities for navies of diverse capabilities and varying perspectives to interact and bolster a shared understanding of maritime challenges. We have seen the contribution of mechanisms such as Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE) towards combating the menace of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The Indian Navy has been an active participant in these fora and our experience has been very positive.

SP’s: Commensurate with the ever growing roles and responsibilities of Indian Navy as a Net Security Provider of the nation and in view of developments within the IOR, Indo-Pacific, South China Sea in recent times, what is your assessment of the Indian Navy’s existing force levels and the force accretion plans in the pipelines to cope with the growing challenges?

CNS: Indian Navy is a multi-dimensional force with modern surface, sub-surface and air assets, for ensuring maritime security of the country. Our Navy operates a balanced force comprising aircraft carriers, multi-role destroyers and frigates, fleet tankers, amphibious ships and a multitude of aviation and subsurface combatants, capable of blue water operations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. We are also continuously evolving to meet the emerging challenges in our areas of interest which include the Indian Ocean Region and other areas encompassing our SLOCs, and vital energy and resource interests. With a well laid out long-term plan, Indian Navy has been able to keep pace with the developing security situation in the region. Towards that end, the present force levels are being further augmented for undertaking the full spectrum of tasks defined for the Indian Navy as well as to address growing challenges of piracy and coastal security threats. Further, Indian Navy is closely monitoring developments in our areas of interest, as also the modernisation of other navies in the region. Based on the assessment of these developments, necessary steps are initiated with the government for strengthening the preparedness of Indian Navy.

SP’s: One of the vital segments of the Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCCP) is the 30-year submarine construction and modernisation plan, the progress of which has been rather tardy, impinging directly on the operational availability of the sub-surface fleet. Would you like to update on the measures taken and its progress which will ensure that the capability gaps are soon abridged?

CNS: Maintaining the requisite number of submarines in accordance with the Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan is a constant endeavour of the Navy and the Government. This process is a combination of acquiring new submarines to replace old ones, as well as periodically modernising the existing ones with contemporary weapons, sensors and other equipment to retain their cutting-edge. Considering the timelines of building new submarines and the de-induction plan of the Navy, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has approved construction of six submarines of Project 75 (I) in India. Further, a service life extension of six of the existing submarines has been approved by the DAC which aims to enhance in-service life of existing platforms post suitable refits. This would ensure maintenance of sufficient force levels of submarines till new inductions fructify.

SP’s: While it is known that the sea trials phase of the first of the line Kalvari of Project 75, Scorpene is well on track with its commissioning due in end December 2016, there are severe apprehensions on the whiplash effects on its approved/contracted main weapon system, namely ‘Black Shark’ torpedoes from Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel, because of the VVIP helicopter scam. Please share your perspective on the likely impact on the weapon configuration of Kalvari, if any and on the followon boats of Project 75?

CNS: The ‘Black Shark’ heavy weight torpedo selected for Scorpene class submarines is built by M/s WASS, Italy, which is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica. While procurements involving the Finmeccanica group have been put ‘on hold’ till finalisation of debarment policy, other options for procurement are being examined.

SP’s: Owing to several acquisition related complications the induction plans for the rotary-wing aircraft for Indian Navy have suffered severely as a consequence, replacements for the ageing fleet at the end of its service life are not available, as also newly commissioned ships lack their integral air wing, hence are somewhat restricted in their optimum operational capability. What in your view should be the solutions to overcome such handicaps in shortest possible time frame?

CNS: It is a fact that due to ageing helicopter fleet, Indian Navy ships’ optimum operational capability is perceived to have been restricted. The recent policy and efforts of the Government of India is likely to mitigate this shortcoming. Recent approvals in terms of KV-28 mid-life upgrade (MLU) and procurement of additional P-8I’s would meet the partial needs in the anti-submarine warfare domain for which the naval elements are employed. In addition, procurement of 16 multi-role helicopter (MRH) and eight Chetak helicopters, which are at advanced stage of procurement, would also provide the necessary boost for achieving integral air capability of ships at sea. In the medium term, the ‘Make in India’ campaign of the Government of India would see the naval helicopters for Indian Navy being manufactured in India with the help of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). In the long term, the naval utility helicopter (NUH) and naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH) programmes manufactured through ‘Make in India’ initiative would provide the requisite fillip to the operational capability of the fleet at sea.

SP’s: After recent de-induction of Sea Harriers, apparently the de-commissioning and send-off of INS Viraat’s is round the corner. The nation now with a bated breath looks forward to the commissioning of Vikrant, the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-1). What are the timelines for induction of Vikrant?

CNS: Vikrant is presently at an advanced stage of construction at the Cochin Shipyard Limited and is scheduled to commence the first stage of equipment trials. On successful completion of these trials, the ship will undergo ‘sea trials’ wherein the ship’s sea keeping ability as well as the capability of various systems like propulsion, navigation, communication systems, etc. to support the ship as a platform will be tested. This will be followed by operational trials of the ship’s aviation and weapon systems. The ship will, thereafter, be inducted into the fleet. Though some delays have been encountered in the delivery of certain equipment for the ship from foreign sources, all efforts are being made to complete the balance outfitting jobs and put the ship to sea for trials.

SP’s: Whilst IAC-1 will be on track shortly, what of greater concern is the progress made on the second in line IAC-2. As per reports available the Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation as a part of the larger Indo-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) has been assigned the responsibility to address all of related and linked issues of the programme. Considering the long gestation period of 10-12 years and more, for the design development and construction, what in your pragmatic assessment and perspective will be the timelines for IAC-2?

CNS: The Joint Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology Cooperation (JWGACTC) was formed between India and US in February 2015 under the auspices of DTTI to share information in the field of aircraft carrier technology. Since India seeks to build a future generation aircraft carrier with modern technologies, the Indian Navy stands to benefit from this cooperative engagement with the US.

Considering that IAC-2 would be the largest and most complex platform being built in the country in terms of niche technologies, the design and construction of the ship is likely to take about 15 years after the government gives a formal ‘go-ahead’ for the project.

SP’s: IOR has been witnessing rapid militarisation with increasing presence of People’s Liberation Army (Navy) forces on a regular basis. What are our plans to bolster maritime and coastal security on both the western and eastern seaboards, including the far-flung island territories?

CNS: The Indian Navy continuously monitors our areas of interest, and undertakes regular evaluation of the maritime security environment. Accordingly, various measures have been instituted towards enhancing security in the IOR. Our deployments last year ranged from the North Western Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean wherein Indian Navy ships visited over 50 ports in more than 30 countries. In addition, we participated in numerous exercises which were aimed towards sharing best practices, enhancing interoperability and honing core war-fighting skills. Our deployments also showcased our reach as well as our maritime prowess and thus contributed to overall stability. In order to foster closer bonds with our immediate maritime neighbours, Indian Navy ships undertook regular Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance deployment of Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius, conducted Coordinated Patrols (CORPAT) with Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar and made port calls at various IOR and African nations. Over the last few years, such measures have contributed towards Indian Navy being looked upon as a ‘net maritime security provider’ in the region. Regular exercises with participation of the Army and the Air Force such as Theatre Level Operational Readiness Exercise (TROPEX) ensure that the Indian Navy remains fighting fit and ready to respond to any contingency in the region.

Closer to Indian shores, maritime security has been implemented as a tiered system, comprising Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and State marine police units, which undertake surveillance in our areas of interest on the Western and Eastern seaboards. Information sharing with various other security/technical agencies is also carried out to optimise surveillance. The National Automatic Identification System (NAIS) chain and Coastal Surveillance Network (CSN) also play an important role in building Maritime Domain Awareness on a 24 x 7 basis. A Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (NC3I) network Interconnecting 51 Indian Navy and ICG stations along the West and East coast have been established. Information from all these stations, Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), Space-based AIS, World Registry of Shipping and Vessels Traffic and Management System are all fused, and feed a Common Operational Picture at all locations. The Coastal Security initiatives by the Indian Navy also include setting-up of a dedicated Sagar Prahari Bal, induction of 80 Fast Interceptor Craft and 23 Immediate Support Vessels. Dedicated steps to enhance island security and offshore security have also been undertaken. Efforts have also been put in to enhance electronic surveillance of our coastline. However, as coastal security involves vast frontier and multiple stakeholders, there is a need for continued vigilance and greater synergy between all stakeholders.

SP’s: The Tri-Service, Andaman and Nicobar Command being the last military outpost and its proximity to the vital sea lanes of communications transiting through Malacca Strait, what are the plans for beefing up its maritime security apparatus, infrastructure and force levels?

CNS: Plans to strengthen the Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) with appropriate maritime assets and augmentation of infrastructure to increase the overall security of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is being carried out in consultation with Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQIDS). Earlier this year, Indian Navy positioned an all-weather missile armed helicopter capable ship at ANC for undertaking patrol and surveillance. In addition, Indian Navy has proposed augmentation of force levels, including ships, aircraft, helicopters and UAVs, exclusively for ANC.

As far as augmentation of infrastructure is concerned, HQIDS is developing a Ten Year Infrastructure Development Plan for ANC, as directed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). As part of the plan, Indian Navy has proposed development of ports, extension of runways and creation of various support facilities for enabling maritime operations from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

SP’s: With a view to boost the ‘Make in India’ campaign, the government has from time to time promulgated several policy initiatives to encourage participation of private sector industry to augment the indigenous warship building efforts. Recent hike in FDI in defence from 49 per cent to 100 per cent being the latest such initiative. How in your views these initiatives would assist in augmenting indigenous shipbuilding capabilities in the country to take Indian Navy forward towards its mission of self-reliance?

CNS: Indian Navy has been at the forefront of indigenisation and has aligned itself with various initiatives taken by the Government of India. Indian Navy, at the very initial stages, recognised the advantages of being a ‘Builder’s Navy’ rather than a ‘Buyer’s Navy’ and India’s first indigenous warship was commissioned in 1961. Ever since, self-reliance has been the guiding principle of the Indian Navy’s perspective plans, which provide the overarching direction for our force build-up. It is a matter of significant achievement that the modernisation programme of the Navy is focused towards indigenous warship construction and is largely driven by Indian shipyards and industry. Consequently, we are one of the few countries in the world having the capability to produce a wide variety of warships, ranging from our aircraft carrier to fast attack craft. In consonance with the ‘Make in India’ policy, all 45 ships and submarines on order are being constructed in Indian shipyards. Our quest for indigenisation has resulted in the public sector shipyards having their order books full with warship and submarine construction. Over the years, Indian Navy has taken a conscious decision to encourage other shipyards, including private yards, to enter the specialised field of warship construction and we hope that this will further augment our national capabilities.

In order to promote the ‘Make in India’ policy of the Government of India, measures are being instituted for identification of technology/product requirements, which could be progressed under ‘Make’ categorisation, under the aegis of MoD. These programmes are presently under examination by HQIDS and have also been discussed with Indian industry to explore feasibility and viability. Further, Indian Navy has promulgated the Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan 2015-30, which attempts to formulate the requirements of the Indian Navy towards indigenous development of equipment and systems, over the next 15 years. The document identifies capability gaps for indigenisation and lists out equipment which can be taken up for indigenisation in the coming years.