Has Indian Navy brass gone stark raving mad?

Basking in the afterglow of the electrifying Tejas at Bahrain, we are back to the more familiar strategic mistakes the military has tendency to commit. The shock here is that it is the Indian Navy — which has always had an inherent strategic sense, which of late has been faulting on a couple of issues (such as going in for 80,000 ton plus-class carriers to accommodate the US-given EMALS — electro-magnetic aircraft launch system which, as argued in my previous writings and in my new book, will end up grievously hurting the national interest.

The immediate problem is with the CNS, Admiral Robin Dhowan, announcing that the indigenous Arihant SSBN will showcase the Indian naval complement at the 2016 Presidential Fleet Review (PFR) to be held next month in Vizag, where some 50-odd navies will be sending their ships (http://idrw.org/ins-arihant-to-be-showstopper-at-international-fleet-review-ifr/). This boat is now at the on-board weapons-firing test stage after successfully negotiating harbor trials and deep sea-diving phases, as prelude to induction in fleet operations,

SSBN spearheading a fleet review??? Have Dhowan & Co. gone stark raving mad? A reasonable question to ask considering the Chinese PLAN will be sending a flotilla of surface ships and a submarine or two. Nothing would make PLAN happier than have the Arihant right there for them to assess, and in maneuvering to the review position in the van giving away its cavitation and some sonar signature (even if it doesn’t submerge) and other metrics for both the Chinese surface and submersible fleets hereafter to key into their threat data bank connected with their fire control systems for easy identification and counter-actions. This is ridiculous. And, how long do you think it will be before PLAN passes on the Arihant-related target information to the Pakistan Navy for use by the Agosta Bs in its inventory? Beyond the pride Arihant will no doubt induce in the top naval brass by putting Arihant on show, and the frisson it may generate at the review with every adversary and friendly participating navy trying to get a fix on the Indian SSBN, what exactly is sought to be achieved by NHQ?? Considering how careful the navy has all along been in not even exposing the Kilo SSKs to US naval scrutiny in the Malabar exercises until the last one, going so public with the SSBN is nothing short of strategic disaster that bids fair to heedlessly endanger operations of the Arihant class of ships once they get fully seaborne, with the first boat pulling long distance patrols armed with nuclear-tipped missiles starting in 2017.

Time to swallow pride Mr. Dhowan and do the right thing: Pull the Arihant from the PFR, pronto, lest you eliminate even that slight strategic advantage an unexposed Indian SSBN poses PLAN and Chinese interests west of Malacca! If the CNS doesn’t relent, it is time for the defmin Manohar Parrikar to show some political leadership for a change, rather than acquiescing in every damn-fool measure instituted by the military services even when these violate common sense, and ORDER the navy to keep the Arihant under heavy wraps, especially from prying eyes at the 2016 PFR.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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18 Responses to Has Indian Navy brass gone stark raving mad?

  1. Rahul(Kolkata) says:

    Do u think Mr Karnad that IN has no IQ or a team of dumb fools who could not see through what you are suggesting and what is evident to layman like me for a long time even before your suggestion today? I dont think they are fools…Or the political leadership is dumb headed…Must be they have something in their mind…..

    Now another piece of news about IN will make you go crazy and will make IAF and IA laugh as they have always been at the receiving end of your indigenization bullet…On Jan 29th, a team from Dassault Aviation will be meeting IN officials for a detailed briefing about Naval Rafale, which, by all indications IN has decided as its next frontline plane for INS Vishal….IN will acquire 54 of them and the political leadership is happy with that as having a common platform for both IAF and IN will reduce spares and maintenance costs….

    So, maybe its time for you to introspect on Rafale and stop blasting the IAF for their choice keeping IN as the goalpost of indigenization….

    • Sorry, I forgot to mention the Navy’s prospective indent for navalized Rafale as one of the recent wrong decisions. The reason I didn’t is because I’m not certain it was not prompted by PMO (with the first mooting of this purchase by the Quay d’Orsay in its interactions with NSA, Ajit Doval). This is a thoroughly awful and financially ruinous and unsustainable proposal that compounds the problems relating to IAF’s Rafale acquisition deal. This leads to my conclusion that GOI acts wrongly so often and in so boneheaded a fashion, it is no wonder very little is going right with the country — which tendency, I for one had hoped, PM Modi would by now have corrected. But, alas, that isn’t so.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        For a total of 45 Rafale M ever produced this aircrafts seems ‘made for the sea’ literally:

        1) On 24 September 2009, after unarmed test flights, two French Navy Rafales returning to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, collided in mid-air about 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the town of Perpignan in southwest France. One test pilot, identified as François Duflot, was killed in the accident, while the other was rescued.[239]
        2) On 28 November 2010, a Rafale from the carrier Charles de Gaulle crashed in the Arabian Sea. This aircraft was supporting Allied operations in Afghanistan. The pilot ejected safely and was recovered by a rescue helicopter from the carrier. Later reports said the engine stopped after being starved of fuel due to confusion by the pilot in switching fuel tanks.[240]
        3) On 2 July 2012, during a joint exercise, a Rafale from the carrier Charles de Gaulle plunged into the Mediterranean Sea. The pilot ejected safely and was recovered by an American search and rescue helicopter from the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.[241]

      • Nilesh says:

        Any chance of MIG 35’s making a comeback if Rafael is junked? …. we are anyway adding MIG’s to our naval inventory .

      • MiG-35 is currently the best multi-role fighter, and India would not hurt itself by acquiring it.

      • MS says:

        Mr Karnad, do we get floored or overwhelmed by the respect and good treatment we get in Fance?. The French diplomacy is indeed the best going by the success in selling Rafale.
        Secondly, how come the Chinese govt officials are able to get much more from every country even when they do not show such effusive warmth in photo-ops? Even Pakistani diplomats achieve a lot. Enough has been written why Rafale is too expensive for us to afford but the moot question is-why are we succumbing to it ?
        Lastly, if the IAF feels confident that it could battle China’s SU-35 (Pak may also get some, who knows) in the air with its Rafale then so be it. Let us give our pilots Rafale and tell them to train to beat SU-35s in air.

      • MS@ — Leaving it fully to the Services to decide what they want to fight wars with will leave the country no options on economizing on defence and that’s a bad trend to follow.

    • abhay kharade says:

      Strategic thinking was never a part of our culture. Babucracy and Yes minister has been our tradition since independence. Indeed country is being run by dumb fools. New political leaders cannot change a rot developing for last 70 years. If we cant afford 36 rafale for IAF, how can we afford 54 naval version which will be more costly.

  2. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Oh and the 41st Rafale-M has also been returned to manufacturer for technical problems. LOL Makes it 5 Rafales-M out of action from out of 45 produced by end of 2015. hallelujah.

    More importantly why in the world we need to exhibit Arihant bhai ji? Why expose it when you really do not need to? What are the benefits? Or is it to save some unknown/undivulged possible loss/risk, that it needs to be exposed so much?

  3. Shyam says:

    Quite a lot of armchair admirals here, I see.

  4. AAN says:

    This current trend of internationalizing every Indian function and having military exercise repeatedly with western countries who have a track record of working against Indian interests is getting tiresome and moronic. Looks like another attempt at sickularizing the country, doesn’t even matter if the national security is damned.

    Even the Republic day and Independence parade has been secularized where all kinds of western stooges are called as a chief guests, last year it was obomber with his high and mighty lecture teaching Indians about peace and tolerance while blacks and whites were rioting his country before of rising racial intolerance, and now this. It’s absurd to celebrate freedom from psychopathic western explotitation and plunder that our ancestors achieved for us by calling in these same westerners as chief of guests.

    Absolutely slave-like behavior. India increasingly seems to be turning into a vassal state of the west while chin and russia forge a new miultipolar world. I’d request my fellow Indians to pay more attention towards western bias against India and strictly vote only those who stand up for our national interests.

    Also, the naval tejas is battle ready, why not induct them in huge numbers ???

    • Shaurya says:

      NLCA, battle ready? Thought we need the Mk II with the 414 engine for carrier ops with full loads? Agree that we should invest in the Mk II and NLCA instead of Rafale or EMALS. Rumors are DAE is confident of a power plant for this larger carrier to power the EMALS. True?

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Regards – “Also, the naval tejas is battle ready, why not induct them in huge numbers ???”

      NLCA when ready is going to be ordered. There is a TINA factor also working in favour of NLCA. Its not like the Navy is ignoring it.

      In fact Naval Tejas is the only reason the LCA is working at all. Warna IAF had left no stone unturned to have the LCA killed. And between Mig-29K (~40) + NLCA (~40-60) + Helos – On Ground aircarfts, there just would be a full complement for the 2 aircraft carriers we have. This whole drama of F-35 and Rafale-M and EMALS, is for the piece of action that is to come later (probably 2/3 more carriers – larger sized). That is where the moolah is and everybody is busy astro-turfing the Dhyanchand.

      Navy would do well to remember how the Air Force messed up its acquisition/deployment plans by going 50/50 for Mirage2000 and Mig29. A story that the IAF is repeating again with the Rafale and Sukhoi. 10 years down the line you will see Su-30MKI with minor upgrades escorting Rafales. Just the way the higher priced Mirage 2000 ensured that IAF Maintenance branch was in no position to finance BRDs and service Mig 29s till 1996. PM PVN Rao had to intervene to chalk out plans financed by a mere funding of Rs. 40 crore (1994 rupee) for these spares which could have easily be done in India and were eventually done in India. The exact same thing already has happened with Sukhois, where 2/3rd of the on ground Sukhois are stuck up in the BRDs even while HAL is going great guns, Making In India, the same products. And again like in the PVNR 1994 intervention the present Def Min and PM are intervening to set the sabotage Sukhoi right by making arrangements for spares. The lesson to learn for the Navy from all this is that it is easy to open ones mouth wide and demand everything under the sun in the name of protecting the nation. But when it comes to actually protecting the nation the budgets and timelines begin to matter. Do not take the high fixed costs route to a job security and turf protection that the IAF brass has taken. Take instead the ceaseless improvements route. The route abandoned by the IAF. Had IAF stuck with and kept improving the Mig29 we would never have spent such a long time on MMRCA drama, costing lives and missions and capabilities.

      Just the way Indian Navy has great capacity now in the float category, they can begin to gain expertise and capacity in the other categories. All these EMALS and Rafale-Ms and F-35s are like gutka in pouch. Today its gutka tomorrow its going to be something more serious. Improve on NLCA. Buy some refueling aircrafts, get COBS like Greyhounds on 65000 ton class carriers and go for the less electrical-power intensive CATOBARs, get more nuke subs, get better conventional subs.

  5. r.john says:

    INS Chakra too needs to have a noisemaker attached to it when the review is going on,let alone the Arihant.I do agree though.For one,the Arihant hasn’t been commissioned it is still officially undergoing sea/weapons firing trials.

    The EMALS acquisition for a nuclear powered carrier is as ludicrous an idea as the uber-expensive IAF Rafale deal .These two acquisitions will beggar their respective services with little money left to be spread around for other vital acquisitions like AWACS/AEW aircrraft ,tankers,LCAs and the glaring blind spot in the IAF’s eyes,the lack of a dedicated strategic bomber. Even the larger and heavier SU-32/34 would be a far better acquisition to deliver any N-missile than the Rafale. Instead of naval Rafales for the INS Vishal expected in about 10+ years time,a naval stealth aircraft like a naval FGFA or JSF if it has overcome its developmental problems would be more capable and certainly cheaper. A second perhaps slightly larger Vikrant class CV which Cochin shipyard can build at speed would give us 3 carriers with similar naval aircraft easier to operate and transfer from vessel to vessel.Improved MIG-29Ks/35s would be the easiest and most cost-effective option.The IN has a major submarine shortage and buillding up our fleet of at least 36 nuclear and conventional AIP boats should be a higher priority than a huge N-powered CV a nice juicy target for PLAN and PN subs.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Even Noise is a Signal. And only real difference between designation of a signal as a noise or detection of noise as a signal is data crunching power.

  6. quickboy says:

    There seems to be two things here, If our own weapons prove to be having some deficiency, It is total failure. If F-16/18/22/35 or Rafales proves lame ducks they are in process of “being improved”, The people celebrating our own failures is most of the time our own, May be the people in our media has “design faults too” and should be dumbed. Also I see another kind of reporting like. “India polishes a battle tank, Bad news for pakistan and China etc”. which are awkward to even hear. I was actually waiting for the TEJAS news from Bahrain, with my breath holding tight. Was just wondering about the huge TV shows which will happen , only-if something goes wrong.

  7. Raahul Kumar says:

    Indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant will not feature at the ongoing International Fleet Review, the navy chief, Admiral R.K. Dhowan, said on Friday.

    He heard you BK. It seems like the story was just media speculation with no basis in fact.

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