Prepared to face China and challenges arising from Covid-19: Navy chief Karambir Singh

China’s attempts to change the status quo on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the Covid-19 pandemic complicated the security situation, with the Indian Navy deploying its P-8 Poseidon aircraft and Heron drones for surveillance on the northern frontiers, naval chief Admiral Karambir Singh said on Thursday.

Singh told the annual news conference ahead of the Navy Day on December 4 that air power at sea is an essential component of naval operations and the Indian Navy is committed to acquiring a third aircraft carrier, a move that would also be in line with the country’s ambition of becoming a $5-trillion economy.

The Navy, he said, is prepared to face challenges arising from the pandemic and China’s attempts to change the status quo on the northern borders, which have “significantly increased the complexities in the security situation”.

The Navy’s P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles were deployed to northern bases to keep an eye on the Ladakh sector of the LAC in line with requests from the Army and Air Force, he said. Two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones, which have an endurance of about 33 hours, have been leased from the US to fill in the gaps in the Navy’s capabilities, he added.

Though Chinese fishing and research vessels are operating in regional waters, none of them has violated India’s maritime boundaries and only three warships of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy have been present in the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean region for anti-piracy operations since 2008.

With the Navy’s second aircraft carrier, the indigenously built INS Vikrant, set to begin sea trials next year, Singh emphasised the need for a third carrier to project naval power “here and now”. The Navy is working on collating technical information before formally approaching the government to clear the acquisition of a third carrier, he said.

“Air operations are integral to naval operations. Air power at sea is required here and now. The Navy is all about reach and sustenance,” Singh said, adding project power at sea dovetails with the government’s plans to make India a $5-trillion economy.

“If you want to be a $5-trillion economy…you will have to go outwards. The Navy does not want to be tethered to the shore. For that, aircraft carriers are absolutely essential,” he said.

The Navy is working with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on a multi-role carrier-based combat jet to replace its MiG-29s. This work will build on the lessons learnt from the indigenously built light combat aircraft and the Navy is hoping the home-grown carrier-based fighters will join service in the 2030s, Singh said.

Indigenisation is a key part of the Navy’s acquisition of warships and all 24 surface vessels and submarines inducted in the past six years were built in India, while 41 more vessels are being constructed at the country’s shipyards, he said. The Project 75I-class submarine programme too is on track, with the Navy having identified vendors and partners to build six submarines, and Smash-2000 rifles are also being acquired to protect vessels against attacking drones, he added.

Despite the disruption caused by the pandemic, the Indian Navy participated in 13 bilateral and multilateral drills this year and training of naval personnel from friendly countries resumed in November. Thirteen countries have been invited to send representatives to India’s information fusion centre in Gurugram and three foreign liaison officers have joined while three more are expected soon.

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