Sunday 19 August 2018, 03:25 AM
Shortage of Minesweepers is an area of concern for Indian Navy
By Sushil Sharma | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 4/30/2018 4:44:05 PM
Shortage of Minesweepers is an area of concern for Indian Navy

India’s ability to secure its harbours, key ports including strategic ones will be vulnerable as the programme to get 12 modern mine counter measure vessels, popularly known as minesweepers in Naval parlance, has been stalled over multiple issues.

Minesweepers have the ability to look for underwater mines and explosives. Enemy mines and explosives, usually planted by submarines, can blow up ships and block access to ports as the targeted ship sinks on site. Famously PNS Ghazi, the Pakistan Navy submarine tried to the same at the Naval base at Vishakapatnam during the 1971 war but failed. 

India will invite fresh expression of interest as the deal with the selected Korean company Kangnam corporation to make these 12 vessels for Rs 32,460 crore at the Goa Shipyard Limited has fallen through. There were issues of technology transfer and costs which could not be sorted out.  Repeated re-negotiations led to nowhere. 

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in its report in March last year said: “The Committee have been apprised that the MCMVs in operation. Therefore, rapid induction of MCMVs must be taken care off”. The committee asked the government to make “sincere and concerted efforts” to equip the navy with the critical capability.  The Committee feels that the entire process of procurement of minesweepers will be delayed inordinately. The panel is headed by Maj Gen BC Khanduri(retd), a BJP MP from Uttarakhand.

What the criticality: 

Indian Navy is prime element of India's maritime power and safeguarding maritime interests. India has a long coastline of 7516 km and there exist 1382 islands. India's economic resurgence is intrinsically linked to the Seas because 95 per cent trade by volume and 68 per cent by value is transacted by sea. In addition to the economic aspect, Indian Ocean Region has multiple security challenges as this is the region where one-third of world's population lives and there is coexistence of developing and failed economies. Besides this, the area faces rampant threat of piracy and trans-national crimes. 

This trade is carried out through ports and Navy’s calculations of securing the harbors has gone for a toss. In reality Navy need 24 minesweepers for the country’s 12 major harbours. India presently has four Soviet Union made mine sweepers to do  duty and are grossly inadequate. The lead ship of the minesweeper fleet INS Karwar was decommissioned  in May last year.

The remaining ships, INS Cannanore, INS Cuddalore, INS Kozhikode and INS Konkan have been commissioned before 1989 and are on their last legs. If an enemy submarine lays mines in shallow waters outside a key Indian harbour, the possibility of Navy detecting the mines is remote. In today’s world even modified fishing trawlers can be used for laying mines, multiplying the threat at the sub-conventional level, meaning some non-state actor doing the job. 

The huge delay:

Two of the four existing minesweepers are  scheduled for decommissioning in 2018 but with these new developments the Navy may have to operate them for longer. The phased de-induction had commenced in 2016, with one ship retiring   followed by another one in 2017. Originally, the deal was supposed to be closed in 2016. It was planned that construction of the first vessel would begin in April 2018, and deliveries likely to be completed between 2021 and 2026.

Even if India signed the  Rs 32,640-crore deal with a South Korean shipyard for building 12 minesweepers as off today, the first ship would have sailed out only by 2023 with the remaining till 2028. With the latest development fresh tenders from the South Korean firm or the competing ones from Europe would take at least two years to fructify. It  means the first ship, if everything moves correctly, will not sail before 2025 – some 7 years  away – and the remaining ships will then come in phases till 2030. 

So how has navy landed into this mess: 

The need for minesweepers is the top-most priority and current focus area in relation to augmentation of force levels of the Navy, the Navy has told the Parliamentary standing committee. It was almost a decade ago that the MCMV tender for eight vessels was floated, with Kangnam emerging as the frontrunner for the order. However, the government scrapped the tender in 2014 amid allegations that the Korean firm had hired middlemen to swing things in its favour.

The Centre finally nominated GSL in February 2015 to build minesweepers in partnership with a foreign shipyard. It was later clarified that the previous tender was scrapped due to “procedural issues” and Kangnam could compete again as it was not on the government’s blacklist.The Government has cancelled only the role of the consultant in building these vessels and not the order placed to GSL, a Public Sector Undertaking.To build minesweepers, one requires certain technology as the boats are built with fibre glass or non-metallic substance and that technology is not available with India.

 

 

Tags:

minesweepers,Defence,submarines,explosives,Parliamentary,maritime

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