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With import of Predator drones and P8I snoop planes stalled, Navy seeks flexibility on Aatmanirbhar Bharat fiat

Vice-Chief of Naval Staff favours room for foreign collaboration in capability building

Photo Credit : General Atomics


File photo of the MQ-9B Sea Guardian

The Indian Navy is gently pushing for revival of critical imports which have been stalled in the Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) drive. But in doing so, it is treading cautiously to ensure that it doesn’t fall foul of the Government’s Make in India fiat. 

Multi-billion dollar programmes which have been stalled include the estimated $3 Billion inter-service procurement of 30 High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones from the Predator/Sea Guardian family and $2.42 Billion acquisition of 6 additional P8I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft. 

Are these programmes still on or have these been dropped at the Aatmanirbharta altar? The Navy has no clear answers. But the Vice-Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Satish Ghormade in a public engagement made a case for nuance and moderation in the Make in India agenda. Aatmanirbharta, he urged, ought to be about reducing dependencies and not obsessing with absolutism. The Vice-Chief heads procurements for the Navy.

“We’re very clear that we have to make everything in India and we’re progressing that. However, always there will have to be a balanced decision in doing that because not all countries are making everything in their own country. I think that is understood by everybody. Because there’s something which is not cost effective if you’re to make, you just need to source. But you have to source from the right sources that it will be available to you when required in an emergency and you should not be dependent on others. Aatmanirbharta is all that. We have to do away with dependencies and all the process is in that manner,” the Vice-Chief said. 

He emphasized a route to self-reliance which was collaborative with “like-minded friends”. 

“Rightly, if we can make everything here, perfectly alright. But I don’t think that in a global world and in which you have like-minded friends, we can always have collaborations in such a manner that the whole eco-system is here but some amount of… (partnership is permissible),” Vice-Admiral Ghormade said. 

While keeping the door open for “collaborations”, the Vice-Chief of the Indian Navy made sure that his comments were aligned with the Make in India sentiment on specific programmes. 

On whether the Indian Navy was still pursuing with the US a Government-to-Government deal for the import of six more P8I naval surveillance aircraft, he was ambiguous. “We need the surveillance capability. So, therefore, the process will continue. However, again, the process is how we can get an indigenous aircraft for us,” he said. The fact is that there’s no indigenous option yet for this game changing capability. 

BW Businessworld had reportedly exclusively that the expiry of the US price offer on July 31 pending the wait for a decision on the Letter of Acceptance (contract) with the US stalled the deal. 

On the status of the programme to acquire Predator/Sea Guardian variants, Vice-Admiral Ghormade prefaced his comments favouring a collaborative approach to self-reliance by aligning himself with the Make in India agenda.

“Indigenisation and Make in India is the way ahead for us and therefore we would look forward for Indian industry and our R&D programmes to come up with the capability of the HALE (High -Altitude Long Endurance) variety. We will progress towards that,” he said. 

He also went to great lengths to describe the ongoing procurement programme for a foreign deck-borne jet fighter as only an “interim arrangement” and pledged support to the indigenous programme for a Twin Engine Deck-Based Fighter (TEDBF).

“TEDBF is the final aircraft which will be flying from our aircraft carrier and we are workinG very closely with DRDO, the ADA to make this project a success. That was the aim of designing the carrier,” Vice-Admiral Ghormade said. 

“For an interim arrangement, we have done trials with the Rafale and F/A-18. The trials have just been completed and presently the evaluation is in progress….It will be a very comprehensive evaluation to select the right fighter for the carrier which is only an interim arrangement,” he said. 

The Indian Navy has a current requirement of 57 deck-borne fighter aircraft but the foreign procurement has been reduced to 26 to express commitment to the indigenous TEDBF. No timelines have been frozen for the development of the TEDBF.