NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy has finalized a plan to acquire 100 cutting-edge technologies in the next 15 years to build its war-fighting capabilities, but how realistic that will be is a million-dollar question.
The 15-year prospective plan unveiled last month calls for acquiring a range of futuristic technologies. These include naval missiles and guns, propulsion and power generation, surveillance and detection systems, torpedoes and directed energy weapons, submarines and anti-submarine warfare systems, naval aviation, network-centric warfare and combat management systems.
"By 2027, we want 200 warships and around 600 aerial assets, hypersonic and loitering missiles, and laser weapons," said Rear Adm. Dinesh Tripathi, the Indian Navy's assistant chief of naval staff for policy and plans.
The navy has 138 warships and submarines and about 230 aerial assets, he said.
"In addition, we need to reduce import content for our sensors and weapons and need a high-range of hypersonic and loitering missiles and laser and directed energy weapons," Tripathi added.
Future naval technologies will be built domestically under the "Make in India" a "Indigenization" categories.
The Make in India policy encourages foreign defense companies to collaborate with Indian companies to set up manufacturing facilities for transfer and absorption of cutting-edge manufacturing technology. This is intended to boost jobs and skill development in the country.
The Indigenization policy is largely meant for domestic [defense] companies, encouraging them to develop products that are currently sourced through imports.
Analysts are divided about how this will work.
"It is true that whereas weapons and sensors and their associated software suites are concerned, there has been sub-optimal indigenization," said Pradeep Chauhan, a retired Indian Navy vice admiral.
Several electronic warfare suites, including Ajanta, Ellora and Porpoise, all of which are fitted on the Navy's latest frontline surface, airborne and subsurface combatants, and which are designed to detect the presence of enemy combatants without disclosing one's position or identity, are an unqualified success, he said.
Likewise, the Indian Navy's family of advanced underwater-sensors, including Advanced Panoramic Sonar Hull mounted (APSOH), Hullmounted Sonar Advanced (HUMSA) and USHUS, are a huge success.
"In the future, high-definition radars, sonars, infra-red seeker and electronic warfare suites will be required," said Birinder Singh Randhawa, retired Indian Navy vice admiral said.
"Immediately, larger-caliber guns, 127mm and anti-missile guns (Vulcan Phalanx type), extended range and guided munitions would also be required. To start with these would need to be built under license," Randhawa said.
Chauhan further argues that the future cannot be assured by resting upon past success, particularly since both government and private industry spent pathetically small amounts of money on research and development.
To build future naval war-fighting capabilities, Chauhan said, the navy will need to acquire disruptive technologies, including electromagnetic rail guns and kinetic energy projectiles; laser-directed weapons, weapon-control systems and communication suites; hypersonic missiles and space planes; blue-green lasers for submarine detection; directed-energy weapons; autonomous advanced drones and unmanned combat vehicles that are truly autonomous and fusion-based power sources.
"However, aviation-based R&D in India has been particularly poorly funded and overseen," Chauhan said. "The only way that new naval aviation assets — such as carrier-borne fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne multirole rotary-wing aircraft, ship/carrier-launched-and-recovered UAVs and UCAVs can be meaningfully built in India is through the Make in India program."
As regards the network-centric warfare capabilities, Randhawa said the building blocks are in place; data links are produced indigenously, and a naval communication satellite is in place. The capability can be built on and foreign collaboration may be resorted to for initial catch-up.
"The Indian Navy will also require directed energy weapons and laser weapon systems, Chauhan said. "The short-term answer is to exploit the potential of the 'Make in India' policy initiative. The long-term answer is to invest heavily in highly paying R&D."