Galwan is a turning point in our history. It was India’s ‘Casablanca’ moment when our boys stood on the burning deck to turn tables. It was that moment in time when India and the world realized that the Chinese can be overcome. It was the Nth coming of the Indian Armed Forces from behind. It ensured that India regained its strategic confidence. Many articles have appeared to commemorate the incident. However, a strange dichotomy has emerged. Most analysts say that India is in a state of asymmetry with PLA which has hung a Damocles sword over Ladakh to tie us down to our Northern Borders at the expense of our maritime interests in the IOR. One detects ‘Strategic Hesitancy’ due to a gross overestimation of Chinese capabilities despite Galwan and its aftermath. We need to understand the strategic gains of Galwan and their implications.
Indian Army officer Capt Soiba Maningba Rangnamei of 16 Bihar Regiment during the clash with Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley. (ANI Photo)
Fact 1: In Mar 2020, the Belfer Centre analysis stated “China is regularly operating with a permanent Indian conventional force advantage along its border areas…it would have to rely upon mobilization primarily from Xinjiang and secondarily from the Western Theatre Command… By contrast, Indian forces are already largely in position”. This forecast has been borne out on ground. My own view is that China does not have an ‘Akshay Patra’ from where it can draw forces without consequences – long and short term. The PLA does not have numerical superiority over Indian Army along the LAC if numbers are crunched. Further, the recruitment standards of PLA have been lowered as per South China Morning Post and many other inputs. The quality of PLA is suspect.
Fact 2: PLA Air Force (PLAAF) suffers from a numerical disparity in comparison to the IAF along the LAC. India has a stronger air position, with a large number of airfields. Even if some airfields are down, operations can continue from other locations. The same is not true for PLAAF. IAF has a clear edge for the present. The PLAAF is trying to neutralise this edge by building up air infrastructure at a frenetic pace.
Fact 3: Any terrain allows deployment up to a level only. Beyond that, pumping in more forces results in diminishing returns. It is a matter of space, logistics, effectiveness, survivability, mobility and recuperability. In high altitudes, these factors get compounded. From a defensive perspective, India has adequate forces to thwart China. In my considered opinion, China does not have enough forces to wage a decisive war in its favour against India.
Fact 4: China is transforming PLA from a conventional land based force to a multidimensional force with a global foot print. Increasing force levels along the LAC is at expense of the larger role. The assessment to be done is whether a hand brake has been already put on this process post Galwan.
Fact 5: Comprehensive national power is a fictional metric coined by the Chinese to create a halo. It has no value on the battle field. Otherwise Taliban should not have kept USA on the run for so long. India needs to fight asymmetrically to defeat PLA. While India has the tools to do so in Tibet, PLA does not have it. There are no morals in not using the asymmetric option against an untrustworthy enemy.
Fact 6: Conventional ‘big’ battles between nuclear nations is fertile imagination. Most of the conventional weapons are now consigned to deterrence only. However we need to be prepared to defend our territorial integrity conventionally if push comes to the shove. The trend will be localised battles of high pressure and intensity.
Pre-Galwan Opinion: As per the Belfer Center Report, ‘India has key under-appreciated conventional advantages that reduce its vulnerability to Chinese threats and attacks. India appears to have cause for greater confidence in its military position against China than is typically acknowledged in Indian debates, providing the country an opportunity for leadership in international efforts toward nuclear transparency and restraint. Indian strategists have not focused on this opportunity, in part because they draw pessimistic conclusions regarding China’. How true!
Corroboration. Overall all these facts and opinion have been borne out in the past one year on ground in Eastern Ladakh. However things are changing.
The PLA executed a premeditated and calibrated operation to ensure that the focus of Indian action remains on the LAC instead of expanding to POK and Aksai Chin. This was in response to abrogation of Article 370 and its political postulations. To that extent, China has achieved its aim as I have enunciated in my article ‘Aim Revisited’@ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2021/06/please-read-in-conjunction-with-these.html . However when viewed in the larger context, PLA did not achieve objectives to cripple India like cutting off the DSDBO road or inflicting a military defeat on the Indian Army or coercing India into alignment with China or preventing India from doing what it wants. In fact the opposite has happened. PLA had to retreat humiliatingly after destroying their own defences and obliterating the Chinese flag. To that extent China stands defeated. However there are larger issues which have exposed the severe limitations of the PLA and China. We need to exploit them. Unfortunately at a military level, these have not come out clearly. At the political level it has not been realised as to how to drive home the advantage which Galwan gave us. I will leave the bureaucratic level out, whose (in)action has contributed more to the detriment of national interests, objectives and strategy.
PLANNED OFFENSIVE VS SPEED OF REACTION
The PLA incursions were meticulously planned with two divisions at a time and place of China’s choice. News of rehearsals on walk-through GIS models had also been publicised. It was probably appreciated that India will not be able to react in time and space to even pose a challenge to PLA. Hence two divisions would be able to militarily coerce India to achieve multiple political aims and objects. The execution failed due to gross under-assessment of Indian capabilities. All these were probably based on PLA norms. These norms indicate PLAs lack of military grasp. Its incapability to exploit the advantage and initiative when the window of opportunity opened is well established now. However the more important issue is the Indian reaction. We could build up an equivalent amount of forces to mirror PLA deployment in a matter of 2-3 weeks and stymie the offensive in super high altitudes. In the battlefield equations of time and space, capability to build up forces in such quick time frames indicates India’s latent offensive capability. Any one noticed that? India’s military capability to launch an offensive into Tibet at a time and place of its choosing by beating the PLA in time is now established. The edge which IAF brings to the table enhances Indian offensive potential. India will win the ‘Race to the Swift’ unless PLA commits additional forces in Tibet on a permanent basis. It seems to be doing that now! Anyone with fundamental common sense will discern as to who is tying down whom. Further, it tells us that we need to get into a preventive counterattacking mode rather than being permanently defensive.
OUTMANOEUVRE IN HIGH ALTITUDE
Occupation of Kailash Range and heights above Finger 4 in the face of PLA led to China being outmanoeuvred. More importantly, there was no counter manoeuvre by the PLA due to its limited capability in high altitude. The limitations of a political Army when set against a professional Army have been exposed. Significantly, the capability of PLA will not get better since it has already degraded its intake standards of height, eyesight and even hearing. Overall it leaves PLA as a vulnerable force in the mountains at super high altitudes. This will be exploited by all forces opposing China anywhere. It has taught everyone that PLA can be arm twisted into retreat.
There are reports in the media that PLA is turning over both the divisions from Eastern Ladakh. It begs a question. Why are they doing so? It takes more than a year for troops to get used to the environment and be fit for fighting. Just when those two divisions were getting fit to fight they are being turned over. PLA will now have two new divisions which are not fully fit for high altitude warfare. There are two explanations. First. The two divisions are beat-up and fatigued in near combat. Poor show then. Second. PLA troops do not identify with Tibet as their home land worth defending by sacrificing their life. After all, China as it exists today is an unnatural country which has never existed earlier in history. It has a spatial divide, an ethnic/racial divide and an economic divide between its Han dominated core in the East and the non-Han West. Despite all the talk of change of demography, Hans have not settled in Tibet in droves. Both these issues need monitoring to assess PLA’s ability and commitment to fight a last man last round battle in high altitudes.
Rebalancing a strike corps deployed against Pakistan to face the PLA has a tremendous strategic dividend for India. The rebalancing exercise does not detract our capability against Pakistan or in the IOR. On the other hand dual tasking significantly enhances our defensive and offensive options and capabilities along the LAC. PLA has now been forced to react to this. It will have to deploy additional forces in Tibet which is its secondary theatre and it will be at the cost of its larger geopolitical priorities. It has come to light that PLA is busy building infrastructure to house troops permanently along the LAC. PLA has been forced to commit itself much more to the LAC than hitherto fore and it no more takes Indian Army for granted.
THE GEO-STRATEGIC FALLOUT
Galwan inspired many countries to face up and counter China which were hesitant to do so till then. Malaysia, Phillipines, Singapore, Japan and Vietnam took up issues more forcefully with China after Galwan. These countries will be thankful that India has tied down China in remote Tibet. It takes Chinese focus away from them. Unfortunately, this fact has not been played up by either our diplomacy or strategic community to build or form a coalition of nations which are militarily affected by China and have a dialogue with them for joint action. Galwan also forced convergence of all democratic nations to form an unitary view about China. QUAD would not have come about without this action. NATO would not have declared China as a systemic global security challenge. The geo-strategic fallout has been huge.
We have turned ‘Defeat into Victory’ but are we capitalising on it? We have exposed the limitations of PLA. The Chinese seem to have learned from their shortcomings. They are increasing the depth of the battlefield and building a firm base. I do not see a plan to overcome our short comings. We remain in awe of Chinese! We are not able to tell the world as to how to deal with China! There is a need for political and strategic introspection. Galwan has also brought out that while we are fully prepared and capable of taking on the PLA in close battles, we are unprepared for the deep battle. We need to be able to deter the Chinese from any further adventurism by re-tooling for war in super high altitudes. We should enforce ‘Standoff’. Standoff can be imposed by improving battlefield transparency, reach, and survivability of existing forces. Let me put it across simply, the table which I outlined in my earlier article can be implemented incrementally, with indigenous technology as an evolutionary process. It needs unified thinking and clarity of mind. More than great financial investment, it needs commitment and dedication. That is sorely lacking. Strengthening the LAC is not at the cost of our maritime aspirations as being perceived by many. The challenge before the CDS is to increase joint ‘force’ and ‘operational’ capability. Theatre commands are contentious and emotive issues. Let them evolve. Increasing indigenisation rather than importing Russian tanks and Israeli guns should be the greater priority. We have a task cut out ahead.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vastoperational experience. He contributed significantly to the Modernization and Indigenisationof Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved inapplied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read onwww.gunnersshot.com
India’s military capability to launch an offensive into Tibet at a time and place of its choosing by beating the PLA in time is now established. The edge which IAF brings to the table enhances Indian offensive potential. India will win the ‘Race to the Swift’ unless PLA commits additional forces in Tibet on a permanent basis. It seems to be doing that now! Anyone with fundamental common sense will discern as to who is tying down whom. Further, it tells us that we need to get into a preventive counter-attacking mode rather than being permanently defensive.
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FROM DELHI TO VISAKHAPATNAM VIA KOLKATA AND MUMBAI
Tomorrow, Sunday 21 Nov, the Indian Navy will commission its latest Guided Missile Stealth Destroyer (DDG) INS Visakhapatnam in the Naval Dockyard at Mumbai with the Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh as the Chief Guest. Apart from the novelty of naming a ship after a leading port city of India, of which a little later, Visakhapatnam, with its advanced, state of the art suite of weapons and sensors represents a formidable combat unit comparable to the best of DDGs globally. It also represents a landmark moment in the Indian Navy’s relentless quest for indigenization and self-reliance in warship building.
INS Visakhapatnam at sea.
INS Delhi and INS Mysore, the first avatars.
INS Delhi commissioning on 15 November 1997.
INS Visakhapatnam crest.
INS Visakhapatnam mascot Blackbuck, the state animal of Andhra Pradesh.
INS Delhi top view.
The ship is the first of the Project 15B series of four destroyers – named Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal and Surat that the Navy intends to commission in the following years. These follow the Project 15A or the Kolkata class ships – Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai which joined the Fleet in the last decade and which, in turn, were a follow on the Project 15 (Delhi class) ships – Delhi, Mysore and Mumbai that were commissioned between 1997 and 2001. All the destroyers have been built or, will be, in Mumbai city, at the Mazagon Dock, which over the years has become the premier warship building yard of the country.
A warship is amongst the most complex things constructed and, therefore, warship building is the holy grail of infrastructure technology. Like missile, space and nuclear technologies, warship building is the preserve of few nations among whom India is one. While the aircraft carrier is the queen of the maritime theatre, destroyers are powerful surface combatants with multi-dimensional capabilities. Equipped with an array of weapons and sensors they can be effective in all domain warfare – surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and electronic. Typically, in the range of 5000 to 10000 tons displacement, they also possess long endurance so as to operate singly or in small task forces or as part of the Fleet. In short, the destroyer is an extremely versatile platform capable of essaying the full spectrum of naval roles – warfighting, constabulary, diplomacy and benign – and is, therefore, a very important piece in the maritime chessboard. To put it somewhat simplistically, Cruisers or Light Cruisers performed this role after World War 2 but, over a period of time, destroyers have come to become the most formidable assets in any navy’s Order of Battle (ORBAT).
Immediately after independence, Indian Navy began a process of expansion. Guided by visionary founding fathers, a force of ‘less than half dozen sloops’ embarked on the journey of building a powerful Navy, as the principal guardian of India’s maritime interests, in the post-colonial era. Embedded in this vision were two key principles – the first, to enhance Fleet strength by rapid induction of platforms from abroad as necessary for its enhanced mandate of more than ‘coastal defence’ as was prescribed in the colonial times and, the second, a sound commitment to indigenization by transitioning, at the earliest, from a buyer’s navy to a builder’s navy. In other words, despite the complexities of warship building, the advanced technologies required and lack of adequate industrial capacity in the country at that time, the Navy was determined to build locally, by acting as a catalyst for creation of such capacities as required. This desire attained even more urgency as naval budget, in the initial years after independence, remained tight owing to commitments for the other two services in view of continental threats and wars.
Indian Navy’s indigenization or ‘atmanirbharta’ journey can be summarized as one of several phases with each succeeding one being a big leap over the previous phase. The first phase began in 1960 with the commissioning of a small Seaward Defence Boat, INS Ajay and culminated with the building of INS Darshak, a survey ship. The second was when we constructed weapon platforms with the six Nilgiri class frigates from late 60s to early 80s. These ships were built to the British Leander design, albeit with some improvements with every new ship. So much so, that the last two ships were described as ‘stretched Leanders’ owing to their ability to take the bigger Seaking helicopter as against the Chetak helicopter that the earlier ones embarked. The ‘Nilgiri’ class also had the first surface to air missiles, the rudimentary ‘Seacat’ system and an advanced Action Information Organization (AIO) in the operations room. The next phase was the construction of the three Godavari class guided missile frigates in the eighties, when a completely Indian design came into play. Using the best of both Western and Soviet philosophies that we had been exposed to and amalgamating that with equipment from several other nations we created a unique Indian design. Equipped with surface to surface and surface to air missiles apart from guns and torpedoes, the Godavari class was characterized by sophisticated sensors and an integrated AIO system, as well as a helicopter deck that could carry two Sea King helicopters. The latter with their own considerable organic capabilities were referred to as ‘flying frigates’ and heralded force multiplier effect into the fleet. While the Navy had always had an in-house design organization since inception, which had further expanded with the Nilgiri project, the Godavari class ships were built as designed by the naval design bureau and this was a paradigm shift in our indigenization journey.
Arguably though, the next phase was the biggest leap. While the Godavari class frigates were impressive, they were ‘works in progress’ which found culmination in the Delhi class destroyers. The Delhi class, called Project 15, was our ambitious design to create state of the art ships that could be workhorses like destroyers and also provide command and control facilities of a cruiser. The three ships inducted between 1997 and 2002 had sleek looks, imposing silhouette, armament and equipment that were a huge jump from those existing in our inventory and were great advertisement for our ship building prowess. It was the Delhi class design that segued, with considerable improvements, into the Kolkata class or the Project 15A destroyers of the last decade and now seamlessly transition, with further enhancements, to the Visakhapatnam class of the Project 15B.
It is important to emphasize that this is not the only thread of our indigenization story. Other lines such as the Khukri class missile corvettes, the Shivalik class stealth missile frigates, the Kamorta class ASW corvettes, Patrol Vessels, Amphibious ships, Tankers, Missile Boats, Seaward Defence Boats, Survey vessels and training ships have embellished the catalogue of our designers and builders and each of these ships are in service or have served the country with distinction. Submarines and aircraft carrier building adds a whole new dimension, deserving a separate article. However, to the extent that a genre tells a story, one may argue that ‘Delhi to Visakhapatnam’ journey is a continuum and is a phase of accelerated ‘atmanirbharta’. It’s also a journey made exciting by the names of the ships and their linkages with key events in the country.
Naming of ships is an interesting separate essay in itself. Much thought goes into the endeavour and it is not the intention to dwell on that here. But some history may be useful to join the dots. India’s first Flag ship, acquired from Britain, in Jun 1948, was named INS Delhi. INS Mysore, also from Britain, followed a decade later. Both were erstwhile Royal Navy cruisers which had earned their spurs in World War 2 as HMS Achilles and HMS Nigeria respectively. Delhi and Mysore, capital ships named after capital cities, provided our fledgling Navy, much combat capability while also acting as nurseries for the growth of our leadership. It is no wonder they (along with INS Vikrant, our first aircraft carrier) were regarded as iconic ships embodying the growth of the Indian Navy in the first few decades after independence and our gradual transformation into a big navy.
Thus, the reincarnation of the Delhi class in 1997, now in an indigenous avatar, was welcomed by all and seen as a wonderful omen. There were three ships in this class and third was named Mumbai not only to represent a capital city but also celebrate the long lineage of ships that had been named Bombay/Mumbai and built in colonial times. Delhi, Mysore and Mumbai induced awe, nostalgia and reverence. Along with the aircraft carrier Viraat, these played the role of flagships and command and control platforms with aplomb and gave our navy a much greater reach and capability than hitherto. It was, thus, natural to name the follow-on destroyers after other capital or big cities – Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal and Surat. Except for Imphal all other names are port cities that blend antiquity with modernity and are a perfect fit for navy ships which combine tradition and technology. Imphal, on the other hand, is a salute to the North Eastern part of India and recognition of that region’s contribution to national security and its cosmopolitan ethos. It is the first Indian warship named after a city in the North East which is a landlocked region. In doing so, the Navy is also suggesting that no region in the country is ever removed from the sea, especially in the interconnected globalized era.
This nautical tradition of naming a man-of-war after a city has created umbilical links between the city and the ships. It has vitalized the relationship between the residents of a city and the seafarers serving onboard its ‘namesake’. Hence, let us return to Visakhapatnam, the protagonist of this story.
Often referred to as the ‘City of Destiny’, Visakhapatnam’s history dates to the 3rdcentury BCE, when it was part of the Kalinga kingdom and was involved in extensive international maritime trade. Varying tides of fate saw its control transferring from the regional rulers to Mughals, and then to Europeans, until India’s Independence in 1947. For the British, Visakhapatnam served as the perfect natural harbour to transport mineral wealth from central India to Madras and Calcutta Presidencies. The harbour was opened to trafficin 1933.
Visakhapatnam (also called Vizag, Visakh, Waltair) and the Indian Navy have had an enduring relationship. Realizing the strategic importance of its location in the Bay of Bengal, the British established a small naval station in 1939 as an assembly point for their convoys. HMIS Circars was commissioned subsequently as an operational and refitting base, with few small warships being positioned and the establishment of an ordnance depot and Boat Repair Shop. Visakhapatnam assumed great significance with WW II spilling over into South East Asia. It was a major supply and transit point of the Allied powers for the Burma front.
Post-independence developments saw further expansion and the setting up of a base repair organization in the fifties. The city became the Headquarters of a full-fledged Eastern Naval Command (ENC) in March 1968. 1971 was an eventful year, with the Indo-Pak conflict, in which the ENC played a pivotal role as the key headquarters of war orchestrating actions at sea and ashore to dominate the Bay of Bengal and engineer a decisive victory. The locals too had their share of war experience with the sinking of the submarine PNS Ghazi, occurring just off Visakhapatnam harbour on the night of 03 Dec 71. Over the last fifty years, the ENC has grown rapidly in size and stature. It has become the nerve-centre for orchestrating India’s naval influence in the Eastern and Southern Indian Ocean Region. The city’s strategic location provides the Navy with a vantage position from which it overlooks the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The myriad and potent naval assets at Visakhapatnam enable presence in India’s maritime areas of interest, besides projecting the Indian Navy as the Preferred Security Partner in the region. The city boasts of a distinctive maritime character. Its striking skyline features the Dolphin Hill Lighthouse, Visakhapatnam Port Trust, Kursura submarine museum, TU-142 and Sea Harrier aircraft museum, and the 1971 Victory at Sea Memorial, all of which stand testimony to its rich maritime legacy. For Vizagites, the enduring presence of the Navy has been a source of assurance, besides being an extension of their nautical traditions and aspirations.
Visakhapatnam, the ship, 164 meters long and displacing 7500 tons, is one of the largest surface combatants to be built in India. She is a versatile unit capable of Blue Water operations across the spectrum of warfare. Her sophisticated weapon-sensor suite, coupled with network-centric capabilities makes her a potent Command platform that can bring to bear substantial offensive capability. Armed with advanced Surface-to-Surface supersonic cruise missiles, she can undertake surface strikes at extended ranges. Her Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles, along with active phased array radar, represent a generational leap in the Navy’s Anti-Air Warfare capability. In addition, the 76 mm Medium Range gun and four each AK 630 and Close-Range guns provide effective Surface and Anti-Air capabilities at closer ranges. The ship has an equally potent Anti-Submarine weapon fit comprising latest heavy weight torpedoes and rockets.
Her air surveillance and surface search radars, bow-mounted and towed array sonars, electronic and COMINT systems provide a continuous multi-dimensional surveillance bubble around the ship. The ship’s survivability in combat is assured by multipledecoy systems. Most importantly, the Combat Management System integrates the ship’s diverse weapons and sensors with other ships, thereby providing seamless Maritime Domain Awareness, reduced sensor-to-shooter cycle, and cooperative engagement capability. Above all, the ship is capable of operating two multi-role helicopters which extends her surveillance and offensive capabilities, besides enabling Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The main machinery features four powerful reversible Gas Turbines of 20000 HP each, propelling her at speeds in excess of 30 Knots. Likewise, a captive power generation capacity of 4.6 MW, along with sophisticated power distribution architecture, efficiently meets the energy requirements of the ship. An Integrated Platform Management System enables single point remote operation and control of all machinery including damage control and ventilation equipment.
The commissioning of Visakhapatnam tells many stories. First, the quantum leap in technology and capability that has propelled her into a league of new generation warships. Second, the predominantly indigenous weapon-sensor-machinery fit and stealth features symbolize the maturing of India’s indigenous shipbuilding capability and quest for self-reliance. In a milestone development, there are 39 ships or submarines being built in India over the next few years. Above all, it is a significant marker of the Indian Navy’s journey. If the first Delhi was inducted soon after independence and the second Delhi in the 50th year of the event, on 15 Nov 1997, Visakhapatnam is being commissioned, as we step into the platinum jubilee of independence.
Discerning readers may then ask where does Mumbai fit? Apart from having a destroyer by that name, Mumbai figures as the city where all these ships have been built and where, thus far, they have been home ported. Thus, one may conclude that the quarter century from Delhi (second) to Visakhapatnam via Kolkata and Mumbai has been one of accelerated ‘AtmaNirbharta’. Let us raise a toast to our planners, designers, builders, overseers and ship’s crew on this momentous occasion. Wishing Team Visakhapatnam attains glory in its tryst with maritime destiny.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur is associated with the Naval History Project. Views expressed here are personal.
A GOLDEN DAWN FOR THE SUNRISE FLEET
Indian Navy’s sword arm on the Eastern seaboard, the Eastern Fleet, was born on 01 Nov 1971 as war seemed imminent and clouds of conflict hovered over the subcontinent. The Fleet played a decisive role in the maritime domain holding sway in the Bay of Bengal and strangulating then East Pakistan from the sea, thus contributing to the denouement of the surrender in Dacca on 16 Dec and the capture of more than 90,000 prisoners of war. Having had its baptism by fire and come out glorious through it, the Eastern Fleet, also called the ‘Sunrise Fleet’, has grown by leaps and bounds over the years to become a formidable combatant force. Today, as it celebrates its golden jubilee, here is a look at its journey through some salient points.
Visakhapatnam, on India’s East Coast, has a commanding view of the waters of the Bay of Bengal. It came into prominence during World War II (WW) when the British set up a small naval base in December 1939. Expanding gradually after Independence, she became the Navy’s Eastern Naval Command (ENC) Headquarters in March 1968. Naval planners at Delhi had envisaged a two Fleet Navy, on either seaboard, right from independence. However, financial and other constraints delayed that vision becoming reality. Hence, the Eastern Fleet finally came into being on November 01, 1971. At its inception, considering the strategic scenario, the Eastern Fleet was a ‘make shift’ assembly of few ships, namely – the aircraft carrier Vikrant, anti-aircraft frigates Brahmaputra and Beas, Petya class anti-submarine ships Kamorta and Kavaratti, a WW II destroyer Rajput, amphibious ships Magar, Gharial and Guldar, and a requisitioned tanker Desh Deep. It was this small force that was to bring glory to the navy and nation in the days to come.
Soon after the pre-emptive action by Pakistan in the West on 03 Dec, the Fleet received orders to carry out air attacks on Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong the very next day. Because of what followed over the next fortnight, Bangladesh was born. Vikrant proved to be the centre piece of all operations and enabled the Eastern Fleet to dominate the Bay of Bengal and seal off escape routes of Pakistani forces, contributing in large measure to the overall success in the Eastern theatre. Consequent to relentless air and surface operations by the Fleet, the entire coastline of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) came under its control by December 12, 1971. The Fleet had destroyed enemy bases and strangulated its logistics lines with successful contraband control. Fleet ships had also captured many ships fleeing with Pakistan soldiers and their families; thereby, any escape of enemy was successfully prevented. In addition, on cessation of hostilities and creation of Bangladesh, the Eastern Fleet played a role in helping Chittagong and its harbour regain normalcy.
Having proved its mettle in the 1971 war, the Eastern Fleet started consolidating and reviewing its force structuring through the 70s and 80s. The Petya class (which had expanded to 10 ships by mid 70s) and the amphibious ships formed the nucleus of the Eastern Fleet for a long time. The mid 80s saw the transfer of the indigenously built Giri class frigates from the Western Fleet to the Eastern Fleet. This bolstered her Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities and provided much needed punch. These frigates were invaluable in all operations for the larger part of the 80s and 90s. And the Eastern Fleet saw a fair amount of operations in these two decades
Newspaper coverage of Kittu (second in leadership of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran) being apprehended.
Operation ‘Brasstacks’, a major tri-service exercise from January to March 1987 along our Western land borders and seaboard, saw large scale mobilization where units of the Fleet were deployed across the coast sustaining themselves at extended ranges for prolonged durations. A bigger challenge was to come few months later. The Eastern Fleet spearheaded Operation ‘Pawan’, to support the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in Sri Lanka between July 1987 and March 1990. Pawan came to become India’s longest Peace Support Operation (PSO). Indian ships provided operational and logistic support to Army and Naval forces deployed there and maintained continuous patrols in the Palk Strait and along Sri Lanka’s eastern seaboard. The Fleet was involved in the induction, turn around and the de-induction of thousands of troops and in delivering large consignments of vehicles, munitions, fuel and stores. (See table). Operation ‘Pawan’ was followed by another prolonged constabulary mission Operation ‘Tasha’ in which Fleet unitscontinuously patrolled the International Maritime Boundary Line in the Palk Bay to curb smuggling of arms, poaching, illegal immigration and other activities.
The early 90s saw decreasing availability of the Petyaclass ships due to obsolescence. To address this, the Indian Navy rebased the Rajputclass destroyers, the Khukri class corvettes and the INS Trishul (retrofitted with missiles) to Visakhapatnam in the 90s. Renewed force levels helped the Fleet become the flag bearer for India’s ‘Look East’, initiated in the early 90s. The policy marked a strategic shift in India’s perspective of the world and evolved from diplomatic engagement with Southeast Asia to broader security and defence ties across the whole of Asia-Pacific. Subsequently, we have deepened links with Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and littorals from South East Asia. The Fleet has to its credit many firsts – bilateral naval cooperation between the Indian and Singaporean Navies in 1994, Indo-Thai exercise in May 95, visit to Chinese ports in Aug-Sep 95 after a long hiatus, visit to Brunei and Cambodia in Oct-Nov 96.
However, the expanding diplomatic role did not impact the tempo of operations. Anti-gun running and smuggling operations including Operation ‘Hyacinth’, ‘Hibiscus’ and ‘Poorab’ were undertaken. Operation ‘Zabardast’led to the apprehension of the LTTE ship MV Ahat. During this operation, Sathashivam Krishna Kumar alias Kittu, a close confidante of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran was killed along with nine other LTTE cadre. In June 1999, during the Kargil conflict, frontline units of Eastern Fleet teamed up with the Western Fleet, as part of Operation ‘Vijay’. The objective of strengthening force levels on the Western seaboard and deterring the adversary from further misadventure was successful.
The 2000s saw the Government of India deploying ships of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet on eastbound long range deployments to strengthen military ties with the countries of this strategically important region. For the Fleet, it provided an opportunity to further enhance its operational capabilities, reach and sustenance. ‘Look East’ had transformed to ‘Act East’. The Fleet deployed and, continues to deploy ships, regularly, to Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, USA, and Vietnam amongst others.
As a part of the Indo-US military co-operation for Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, the Indian Navy launched Operation Sagittarius. This operation saw Eastern Fleet ships escorting US Navy High Value Units (HVU) through the Malacca Strait. More than 24 HVUs were safely escorted by the Indian Navy. During Operation Parakram in 2002-03, units of the Fleet were placed on high alert and deployed to the Western coast to strengthen deterrence. The Fleet units were poised for both blockade of sea routes and engagement as ordered. Further, in pursuance of our philosophy of assisting maritime neighbours, on request from Mozambique, Eastern Fleet ship Savitri, along with other Indian Navy units, was deployed off Maputo in Mozambique in May-Jul 2004 for providing coastal security during the World Economic Summit and Afro-Pacific-Caribbean (APC) heads of state summit in Maputo.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was one of the biggest natural calamities faced by the region. Within 12 hours, the Indian Navy deployed 27 ships, 19 helicopters, six aircraft and over 5000 personnel for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) to the affected areas, both within and outside India. The Eastern Fleet was at the forefront of the relief efforts on India’s Eastern Seaboard as also our maritime neighbours. The Indian Navy teams oversaw supplies of food and drinking water; shelter and medical assistance; ensured sanitation and hygiene; restored water and power supply, and provided rescue facilities, to meet further contingencies like spread of epidemics. Eastern Fleet units Rajput, Ranjit, Ranvijay, Khukri, Khanjar, Kirch, Magar, Gharial, Ghorpad, Sharabh, Sukanya and Jyoti were involved in these operations. The Tsunami response reinforced Indian Navy’s reputation as a credible maritime force with substantial reach and enhanced India’s standing as a trustworthy regional power, capable of providing help to friendly nations. Similarly, when an earthquake hit Yogyakarta, in Indonesia, in May 2006 and devastated the place, INS Rajput, deployed in the Malacca Strait was immediately diverted for the relief mission, Operation ‘Marham’, during which the ship carried relief stores and medical aid to the affected areas, and provided health and sanitation assistance. Rajput’s rapid response was widely appreciated by the local media, population and the Indonesian Navy.
The President’s Colour represents the spirit and tradition of a fighting unit and bear testimony to its many deeds of heroism and valour. In recognition of its contribution towards national security, this was awarded to the Eastern Fleet on February 13, 2006. The Colour presentation accompanied the first ever Presidential Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam in which the Fleet played an important role in planning and execution of the event.
Regular force reviews and strategic assessments led to a substantial increase in the Eastern Fleet assets. By early 2007 the Fleet had five Rajput class destroyers, eight Khukri and Kora class missile corvettes, two Sukanya class patrol vessels, four amphibious ships, the tanker, Jyoti and organic helicopters. Four missile corvettes of the 1241 RE class also joined the Fleet in 2008. The Landing Platform Dock Jalashwa (Ex USS Trenton) joined the Eastern Fleet in 2007, paving the way for standoff beaching and transport of over 1000 troops onboard. The commissioning of other larger class of amphibious ships further added to this capability. Incidentally, the Eastern Fleet is the home to a major component of the Indian Navy’s amphibious lift capabilities. The Fleet, with increasing assets, has over time expanded its operational and humanitarian footprint. Operation Blossom was carried out in Feb-Mar 2011 wherein Jalashwa was tasked to evacuate Indian citizens from war torn Libya. Similarly, Sukanya played a key role in providing water (Operation neer) to Male when the Male Water and Sewerage Company in December 2014, suffered damage. Some other illustrative (but not exhaustive) instances of HADR operations include INS Sumitra to Bangladesh on Jun 2017, after Cyclone Mora, INS Airavat in Jan 2020 to Madagascar after Cyclone Diane (Op Vanilla) and as escort for World Food Programme ships to south Somalia in Jun 2020.
The past decade has seen further capability enhancement of the Eastern Fleet with commissioning and induction of three indigenous Shivalik class frigates, four indigenous Kamorta class corvettes and two indigenous Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels firmly reinforcing the Indian Navy’s enduring belief in Atmanirbhar Bharat. The addition of fleet tanker Shakti further enhanced the Eastern Fleet’s reach and sustenance abilities.
The current era is about multilateralism and enhancing inter-operability. The Eastern Fleet has been at the forefront of this approach. Ships of the Eastern Fleet regularly exercise with the US Navy (Malabar), Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JIMEX), Republic of Singapore Navy (SIMBEX), Russian Navy (INDRA), Sri Lankan Navy (SLINEX), Royal Australian Navy (AUSINDEX) as also with navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.
One of the most significant events on the diplomatic front for the Eastern Fleet was the pivotal role played by it in the International Fleet Review hosted by the Indian Navy in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. This was particularly significant on account of the fact that Visakhapatnam had been struck by a devastating cyclone, ‘Hudhud’, in October 2014. Infrastructure was severely affected, large numbers of trees were uprooted, electricity cables damaged, supply disrupted, roads and access lanes blocked. Severe shortage of essential items was experienced throughout the city. The Fleet was in the forefront providing manpower, equipment, water, food, medicines and repair tools to residents of Visakhapatnam and in clearing the airport of debris to make the runway functional. It provided technical teams to assist in restoration of essential supplies, road clearance and to provide accessibility. About 500 personnel from ships were deployed for over a week to restore normalcy. Thus, when the IFR 2016 was conducted, there was an outpouring of gratitude by Visakhapatnam and its citizens towards the Navy and the Eastern Fleet for their yeoman service.
The year gone by, 2020, has seen the Eastern Fleet deployed across the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and beyond, both for humanitarian operations and enhanced operational posture. Covid-19 saw many Indians stuck in countries in the region and beyond. Eastern Fleet units, as part of OperationSamudra Setu helped in repatriation of 3992 Indian citizens. Concurrently, Eastern Fleet units also delivered critical food and medical supplies as part of Mission Sagar to Madagascar, Comoros, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. When 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action on the icy heights of Galwan by Chinese troops, the Eastern Fleet was operationally poised to prevent any misadventure in India’s areas of maritime interest. In Operation Samudra Setu II, this year, ships of the Fleet have been proactively deployed for shipment of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) and other medical equipment to meet the challenges of second wave of Covid.
Today, the Eastern Fleet is a multi-faceted composite force of about 30 units with the capability to defend our national maritime interests along the Eastern seaboard and beyond. It can reach out to all areas of interest, sustain for significant durations and engage with maritime neighbours to strengthen regional security. The likely addition of the indigenous Aircraft Carrier, Vikrant, by 2022 augurs well for the Eastern Fleet. The combat capability, reach and versatility of the carrier would offer an incomparable military instrument with its ability to project air power over long distances. This will provide a major operational fillip to the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet. There is also the happy historical connect of the first INS Vikrant’s role as Flagship of the Eastern Fleet in 1971 war.
Just a month after its birth, the Fleet had cut its teeth in operations in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Over the years, the Fleet has grown and matured not only in terms of assets but also operational reach, sustenance and effectiveness. The Fleet undertakes a large gamut of tasks in this region – maintaining forward presence and carrying out maritime surveillance, keeping India’s Sea Lines of Communication free, fostering cooperation with Eastern maritime neighbours through bilateral/multilateral exercises, monitoring the area for gun running, narcotic trade, poaching and combating low intensity maritime threats such as piracy, terrorism and hijacking. As she turns 50, the Eastern Fleet takes pole position as the vanguard of a resurgent maritime India. It certainly is a golden dawn for the Sunrise Fleet.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur is associated with the Naval History Project and Cdr Utkarsh Sharma is serving with the Eastern Fleet. Views are personal.
‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’
The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.
Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.
On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”
He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”
SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI
The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.
Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.
Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.
Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.
Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.
During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.
To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.
Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.
With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.
IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT
An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.
The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.
The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.
More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.
During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.
Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the
IAF, he said.
ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR
JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.
Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.
Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.
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