Officially admitting the use of Navy’s Poseidon P8I surveillance aircraft at several locations during the standoff with China in eastern Ladakh, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Thursday said “tensions along the northern border” along with the Covid-19 pandemic have posed a dual security challenge for the country.
In his annual press conference on the eve of Navy Day, Admiral Singh said the Navy believes a third aircraft carrier is a necessity; and will focus on unmanned solutions such as drones moving forward.
The Navy chief said that beyond P8I, the Navy had “also deployed the Heron from one of the northern bases” — Heron is a medium altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle. He said that he cannot share details, but “whatever activity the Navy is doing, it is in close coordination and in synergy with the Army and the Air Force to produce the desired results”.
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Regarding China’s actions in the Indian Ocean Region during the standoff, Admiral Singh said that it is “an ongoing situation” and “what is happening there, I personally, would not like to comment on this till such time this situation is resolved”.
The Navy chief said there has been an increase in China’s fishing and research vessels in the Indian Ocean Region “but there has not been any infringement in our maritime zones”, for which there is a standard operating procedure in place.
The Navy chief stressed on the need for a third aircraft carrier, even as Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had earlier said that other projects may get prioritised over it. He said the Navy has “not yet gone to the government” as it is still working over some details, “but as Navy we are very clear of the utility of the carrier”.
India currently has one aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, and a second one — INS Vikrant — is under construction.
“We are very clear because air operations are absolutely integral to naval operations. Air power at sea is absolutely required… The Navy is all about reach and sustenance. If you, as a nation, that is aspirational… you will have to go outwards, seek the world, you will have to move out. I for one and the Navy, does not want to be a Navy that is tethered to the shore. And for that you require air power, and you require it at longer ranges, aircraft carrier is absolutely necessary.”
Discussing the Quad, as the Malabar Exercise in November had seen navies of the US, Japan, Australia and India participating for the first time since 2007, the Navy chief said that the Quad is “basically a construct of the External Affairs Ministry”. “I would like to differentiate between Quad and Malabar,” he said, adding that the latter is a professional exercise between navies since 1992.
Asked if Australia will remain a permanent member in the future, Singh said he wouldn’t speculate as the next Malabar will be hosted by America “and then we will have to look at what decision the Government of India takes”.
Admiral Singh said the programme to build six advanced stealth submarines, P75i, is in its final stages and will be put up at the next meeting of the Defence Acquisition Council after which a Request for Proposal will be issued to the selected foreign players and their Indian strategic partners.
When asked how the Navy would meet its financial requirements in the post-Covid-19 financial crunch, Singh said that the Navy is “fully cognisant of the situation”.
“The year 2020 has been defined by the Covid pandemic, which disrupted and permeated every aspect of life. Tensions along our Northern borders significantly increased the complexities in our security situation. This dual-challenge scenario continues as we speak and the country, collectively, continues to battle the pandemic and tackle security challenges.”
While the details of the joint Maritime Theatre Command are still being worked out, Admiral Singh said the “future warfare has to be about joint planning and joint force application”. He stated that the Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is an existing joint command, will come under the joint Maritime Theatre Command, when it takes shape.
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