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Make in India push: Government moves to turn 'Buyer's Navy into a Builder's Navy'

Economic Times:  July, 2015

New Delhi: With the Indian Navy aiming for a 200-warship force with close to 600 aircraft and helicopters by 2027 to guard India's expanding geostrategic interests, both defence minister Manohar Parrikar and naval chief Admiral Robin Dhowan on Thursday urged the country's private sector to tap into the huge opportunities available in the sector.

The Navy currently has 137 warships, including 14 submarines and 223 aircraft and helicopters, but many of them are coming to the end of their operational lives. Critical operational gaps also persist in several areas.

For one, 10 of the existing 13 diesel-electric conventional submarines are over 25 years old. For another, warships are virtually bereft of multi-role helicopters, which can detect and destroy enemy submarines on the prowl.

Building a powerful three-dimensional Navy of course takes time, as also huge amounts of money. There are already 42 warships and six submarines under construction in domestic shipyards at a cost of around Rs 3 lakh crore under the 2012-2027 maritime capability perspective plan (MPCC). Moreover, the defence ministry has accorded the initial "acceptance of necessity" for another 40 warships.

"We have transformed from a 'Buyer's Navy' to a 'Builder's Navy'. The blue-print for the future Indian Navy remains firmly anchored on self-reliance and indigenization," said Admiral Dhowan. Parrikar, in turn, released a 15-year naval indigenisation plan till 2030 in order to synergize efforts towards indigenization. Indian industry is obviously enthused.

Industrialist Anil Ambani, for instance, said he will invest an "additional Rs 5,000 crore" in the Pipavav Shipyard over the next few years to make it the one-stop shop for the Navy from frigates to submarines. As of now, the defence ministry is in "exploratory talks" with Russia for acquisition of three Grigorivich-class frigates, which if approved will be built at the Pipavav Shipyard.

"The talks will be taken forward when PM Modi visits Russia later this year," said a source. Moreover, there are several other "Make in India" projects in the offing ranging from acquisition of 123 multirole helicopters for upwards of $3 billion to the Rs 32,000 crore project for 12 mine countermeasure.

The Navy is now keen to kick-start its long-delayed programme to build six new conventional stealth submarines in India with foreign collaboration. Apart from defence shipyards, private players like Pipavav and L&T are also in the fray to bag this huge contract for the submarines, which are to be armed with both land-attack missile capabilities and air-independent propulsion for greater underwater endurance.

"After MoD scrutinises this assessment of shipyards, the request for proposal (the tender) will be drafted and issued," said naval vice-chief P Murugesan. The irony is that when this project was accorded "acceptance of necessity" in November 2007, it was estimated to cost Rs 50,000 crore. But it will cost much more now.