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The Navy currently does have around 140 warships, which includes the 45,000-tonne aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, 11 destroyers and 16 submarines, and 220 aircraft, but many of them are old and slated for progressive retirement. Another 27 warships and submarines, including the long-delayed 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, are also under construction in Indian shipyards at present.
But persisting budgetary constraints will prove a major hurdle for the Navy to realize its original plan of becoming a 212-warship and 458-aircraft force by 2027 to become a powerful three-dimensional blue-water force capable of effectively guarding India’s expanding geo-strategic interests as well as deterring China and Pakistan. The government has already shown reluctance to approve the construction of a second indigenous aircraft carrier at this stage, said sources.
In the 2018-2019 defence budget, for instance, the Navy has been allotted only Rs 20,004 crore under the capital outlay for modernization, which is not enough to even pay for “committed liabilities or installments” of contracts inked earlier, when it had demanded Rs 35,695 crore, as was reported by TOI earlier.
But Sitharaman, addressing the naval commanders’ conference here, said the force’s demands for 2017-2018 have been largely met, while also taking cognizance of the importance of long-term funding for its sustained growth.
“I am happy to note that shipbuilding projects worth over Rs 32,000 crore have been tendered and are progressing towards contract conclusion,” she said, promising that adequate funds would be provided to mitigate critical shortfalls.
The minister chose to play down tensions with China, but the fact remains the Chinese Navy is fast expanding its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean Region, especially after operationalizing its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
The Indian Navy, in turn, has been undertaking “mission-based deployments” from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait since August 2017, with around a dozen warships spread across “choke points” in the IOR on round-the-clock patrols for any operational eventuality.
Sitharaman, on her part, expressed satisfaction that Navy had continued to maintain “a high operational tempo” through regular deployment of ships, submarines and aircraft as the “primary instrument and manifestation of the nation’s maritime power, while also establishing itself as a potential tool for military diplomacy”.
“I am confident the Navy’s maritime domain awareness in our areas of interests will enable it to respond effectively to the various contingencies, including search and rescue, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and anti-piracy,” she said.