Thursday, December 3, 2009

Warship-building process too slow, says Navy chief

With growing strategic needs to protect the coastline, fuel supply lines from the Gulf and to combat piracy, the Indian Naval Chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma, today sought a change to warship-building methods and strategies of the country. Terming the pace of construction as too slow, the Admiral, addressing the annual press conference on the eve of Navy Day, said there was need to do much more.

“The construction schedule is where our shipyards lag”, Admiral Verma said, even as he separately said the Navy was looking to have another construction line for conventional diesel-powered submarines. This would be in addition to the existing one at Mazagon Docks, Mumbai, where the Indo-French joint project for the Scorpenes was on.

On the nuclear submarine, he said the INS Airhant, inaugurated on July 26 this year, would be inducted in the Navy within two years and it would be equipped with ballistic missiles. He refused to set a date on when India would acquire the Nerpa, a Russian Akula-class N-powered submarine.

On building additional N-powered submarines, he hoped that the government would not let the huge investments in nuclear submarine building wither away after the submarines were commissioned.

Admiral Verma, who took over from Admiral Sureesh Mehta a couple of months ago, was candid as he made out the case for speeding up warship building in the country. The Navy had currently given orders for 34 ships in three different shipyards of the country, but the rate of delivery was only one ship per year, he said, adding that the Navy would be forced to go in for imports.

Over the next decade, the Navy's fleet strength will be 40 ships (34 from Indian shipyards and six from abroad) and 60 aircraft and an equal number of helicopters. The new orders will take the number of warships to 160 and aircraft to about 290. It currently has 130 ships and another 190 aircraft and helicopters in service.

In the next year alone, the Navy will get delivery of two frigates, six fast-attack crafts, two survey vessels and a fleet tanker.

The Admiral said he was in favour of having a larger private participation in warship building. Larsen and Toubro has set up the country’s largest shipyard in Tamil Nadu and had announced some two months ago that it was ready to take orders of the Navy.

He allayed fears that the post-26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Navy had changed its focus. It remained focussed on its primary task of the country's security on the high seas.

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