Saturday, March 6, 2010

India's emerging maritime clout

The Indian Defense Ministry’s Sixth Land and Naval Defense Systems Exhibition held in New Delhi last month showcased newly inducted equipment by the country’s navy and army. Defexpo 2010 saw over 650 companies from around the world display their products and systems for possible acquisition by India’s military.

But the indigenously developed Shaurya missile, capable of being fired underwater by Indian submarines, was the pièce de résistance of the exhibition. The missile is a canister-launched, solid-fuelled hypersonic surface-to-surface tactical weapon capable of carrying a payload of conventional or nuclear warheads.

With a range of 700 to 1,900 kilometers, the trajectory of the missile, unlike ballistic missiles, can be preprogrammed to make it difficult for anti-missile systems to intercept.

Using conventional fuel-air explosive warheads, the missile can cause devastation similar to that of a mini-nuke. The missile has been optimized for the Indian nuclear submarine program, represented by the nuclear-powered INS Arihant submarine.

The formal induction of MiG-29K maritime fighter planes by Indian Defense Minister A.K. Anthony on Feb.19 is expected to strengthen the Indian navy’s air arm. The aircraft, nicknamed Black Panther, will be part of the 303 Squadron and will fly from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, presently under modernization in Russia.

In the interim period, the MiGs will be tasked for defense duties off the west coast of India. The twin-engine aircraft, capable of covering a tactical radius of around 2,000 kilometers and fitted with beyond-visual-range missiles, will provide potent air cover to the naval fleet in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. The aircraft is also capable of air-to-air refueling, which enhances the time on task.

The maritime strike capabilities of India, deep into the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, have leapt to a new level with the combined strengths of the Navy’s MiG-29Ks and Sea Harriers, and the Jaguars and Sukhoi SU-30MKI fighters of the Indian Air Force. That is in addition to the existing maritime surveillance aircraft types IL-38, TU-142 and the maritime Dornier-228.

A dedicated naval satellite for the Indian Navy is ready for launch by the Indian Space Research Organization this year. The satellite will further improve existing surveillance and net-centric communications in the Indian Ocean region between the navy’s ships, submarines and aircraft.

INS Arihant, the indigenously produced nuclear-powered SSBN submarine, left the Indian port of Vishakhapatnam for sea trials in the Indian Ocean on Feb. 25. Two more submarines of the same class are being produced and will be inducted for trials in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

India’s Defense Ministry took over the Hindustan Shipyard Limited in the port city of Vishakhapatnam this year to augment its submarine production program. Generous assistance and partnerships with the Russian government are also aiding India’s future naval production programs. The political guidance of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is visible in this sphere.

The induction of the Akula-II class of SSN submarines from Russia is apace and the first submarine will be in India in June, christened the INS Chakra. The hunter-killer submarine is one of the quietest in the world today. The Russian government is keen to continue its military relationship with India, with a visit from Putin to New Delhi scheduled this month.

A new facet of India’s defense diplomacy has been Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Feb. 27, at the invitation of the Saudi king, to discuss ways to combat terror affecting both nations. The visit is a first by an Indian prime minister in 28 years.

The Saudi government surprised Singh with a red carpet welcome at Riyadh airport, accompanied by the entire Cabinet. An extradition treaty and a plan to train Saudi naval officers in India are being finalized. Cooperation in the energy sector and protection of sea lanes vital to both countries were also on the agenda.

India’s maritime clout is finally emerging in the Indian Ocean region after determined displays in anti-piracy patrols and humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of the 2007 tsunami.

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