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Navy draws up revamp roster

New Delhi, Dec. 7: The navy has told the government that a bulk of its fleet will retire over the next decade and an acquisition programme has to be set rolling now to replace at least 80 ships.

In the short term, the navy has projected a need for two aircraft carriers (including the Gorshkov that is being negotiated) and 60 vessels. The naval fleet comprises 140 ships. In its long-term perspective plan, the navy has projected an increase in its fleet size to 198 ships.

Navy chief Admiral Madhvendra Singh had told a commanders’ conference in October that the force was aiming to become a “blue water” navy capable of operating way beyond its shores.

Underlying the plan drafted from the navy is a not-so-subtle message to the government that acquisitions were much too slow for the force to feel secure enough for the demands being placed on it.

The navy, which is preparing the Indian standpoint on claims over its Exclusive Economic Zone under the United Nations Conference on Law of Seas (Unclos), points out that patrolling and monitoring Indian waters would become a more onerous task not only because India’s EEZ may expand but also because disruptionist elements were taking to sea routes with land borders being closed.

The navy chief said this week that a group of ministers’ recommendation for a Maritime Commission to coordinate all activities at sea and give political direction must be taken up soon.

The defence acquisition council has approved a ship-building plan for the navy over 10 years. A total of 23 ships had been ordered or were being built in Indian shipyards.

The order books of the Mazagaon Docks in Mumbai and the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers in Calcutta were full. The Cochin Shipyard was building an ambitious air defence ship.

The navy has also concluded price negotiations for Scorpene submarines from a Franco-Spanish consortium. The political decision on the acquisition —of possibly six Scorpenes — was pending with the Cabinet Committee on Security.

The Naval Academy to train officers and sailors would be completed by 2006 and the first phase of the Karwar Naval base, south of Goa, was expected to be completed by 2005.

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