India’s Navy Comes of Age

Last month was a good one for India’s Navy. A number of test successes suggests big strides are being made.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, famously wrote, “to be secure on land we must be supreme at sea.” April 2012 will go down in Indian history as that moment in time when endeavors to keep the country secure from adversaries really came to fruition.

Last month saw the induction of Akula class submarine INS Chakra, the commencement of sea trials of nuclear powered submarine INS Arihant,  the successful launch of the Agni-V missile and the RISAT1 surveillance satellite and the commissioning of the BrahMos cruise missile-armed armed frigate INS Teg. The successful launch and recovery of a Navy Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) from Bengaluru airport last week was the icing on the cake. The much maligned Defense Research and Development Organization fully deserves the credit being offered from all quarters. Years of effort under hostile operating conditions have finally come to a close as India has acquired the necessary expertise and engineering skills to achieve its goals.

The LCA (Navy) NP-1 is a trainer version of the carrier capable aircraft, is fitted with FBW avionic systems and is indigenously developed. An offshoot of the very successful Air Force variant now in limited series production, this aircraft will be further tested on land and at sea, as its capabilities have been enhanced to meet stringent naval requirements.

The naval team at Bengaluru have been working on the prototype aircraft for a decade now. The naval variant of Tejas, as the Indian Air Force aircraft is called, will have all the weapons and sensors fitted on its sister aircraft, with a few add-ons as per naval staff requirements.  Problems with the arrester hook and landing gear of the naval aircraft have reportedly been resolved with the active assistance of the U.S. Navy. This will enable the LCA to operate from aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, which will be available to the Navy in 2013 and 2014, respectively. The LCA in its full form will provide to the service capabilities at sea similar to that of F-16 fighters over land.    

The assistance offered to the Indian Navy by the U.S. Navy underscores the developing partnership and commitment of the two navies to trouble shoot problems in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. The recent exercises between the navies off the Chennai coast saw world class platforms in action, day and night, simulating likely threats and possible resolutions through combined action. Japan, meanwhile, is scheduled to take part in the Malabar series of exercises again in 2013.

Nehru’s dreams of a strong Navy – one that can help guarantee India’s safety – are finally being realized in the 21st century.