India’s has finally decided to go ahead with the deal to get 24 of the MH 60R helicopters for $ 2.6 billion ( Rs 18200 crore) from US company Lockheed Martin under the foreign military sales route okayed by the US Administration.
The decision was okayed by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, making it the first purchase of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) copters for the Indian Navy in more than 30 years.
India, at present uses the Sea King 42, made by AugustaWestland and the Kamov-28 from the erstwhile Soviet Union in ASW roles. The Sea Kings were acquired 40 years ago while the Kamov’s are 30 years old. Collectively both the fleets don’t add up to more than 14 copters and are barely operational.
24 copters are just the bare minimum
The acquisition of 24 copters from US is a welcome step, however, the numbers are just the bare minimum for a fleet the size of the Indian Navy which is now a fully operational blue-water force with almost 18 to 20 ships out on international deployments at any point of time.
With the Sea Kings and Kamov to be phased out the MH- 60 R, despite being very capable, needs more numbers. The MH- 60 R can provide the impetus too India ( read it here what the MH 60R would bring in)
Indian Navy has some 137 ships and off these 40 or so are classified as ‘capital ships’, or the lead ships. US authors Gary Hart & William S. Lind in the 1986 published book ‘America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform’ define what is a capital ship. “These characteristics define a capital ship: if the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate,” the book says.
In 2012, Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) approved a plan to 198 ships and submarines for Indian Navy under the Navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP) for 2012-2027. The same was mentioned in Lok Sabha . Read it here. These numbers have now been pruned down to 175 ships by 2027.
The full complement of 123 copters would be better
In August 2017 India floated a 81-page request for information asking global copter makers for information of making 123 Navy multi role helicopters. Foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) have submitted their bids for making 123 NMRH under the strategic partnership model.
This is not being pursed with the vigour that is needed. It would be ideal to select a partner and start making the copter in India with the OEM having a joint venture with an Indian partner.
India assumes the role of net security provider in the Indian Ocean.
A role of net security provider needs massive assets and with backup, 24 copters would be insufficient. The 68.5 million sq kms Indian Ocean sees about 66 per cent of all the world oil trade, 50 per cent of all world container traffic and 33 per cent of cargo traffic transit through.
80 percent of the oil and trade emanates from this region is extra regional. A large number of navies — 125 ships from about 20 countries — are always present in the Indian Ocean to safeguard their maritime interests.