Project Varsha India's Naval Base to Counter China and Bangladesh
|Project Varsha India's Naval Base to Counter China and Bangladesh|
The new base is designed to support all 8-12 Arihant -class submarines to be built for the Indian Navy, and it will include state-of-the-art nuclear engineering support facilities and extensive crew accommodation. The Indian Navy is seeking foreign technical assistance pertaining to nuclear safety features for the base. While designed principally as a nuclear submarine support facility, the new base can accommodate other naval vessels because of the Indian Navy’s expansion. This facility has been compared to the top-secret Hainan nuclear submarine base for the Chinese PLA Navy. This east coast base expansion program by the Indian Navy is in direct response to Chinese naval expansion into the region.
In addition to Project Varsha, in late 2009, the Hindustan Shipyard Limited (HSL), located at Visakhapatnam, was transferred from the Ministry of Shipping to the Ministry of Defence in order to support the Arihant -class nuclear submarine construction program.
Project Varsha’s ambitious scale in the years ahead will rival the expansive “Project Seabird” under which the Karwar naval base has come up in coastal Karnataka to give India both strategic depth and operational flexibility on the western seaboard against Pakistan. While Karwar will decongest the over-crowded Mumbai port, the new base will do the same for Vizag on the east.
India’s highest decision making body on defence matters, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), has cleared the Indian Navy’s plans to embark on a $2-billion major expansion of the strategic Karwar naval base in the southern state of Karnataka where a host of warships, submarines and the refurbished carrier INS Vikramaditya will be berthed.
Naval assets to protect India’s long coastline and keep watch over the crucial trade corridors in the Indian Ocean are essential to Indian interests.At its meeting held here under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the plans got the necessary nod, senior Indian Navy officers said here.
The expansion of Karwar naval base will be carried out under Project Seabird Phase 2A, which will entail construction of facilities to berth India’s key aircraft carriers including the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier and its follow-on.
The proposal for the expansion strategic naval base at Karwar involves construction of a wide range of new facilities and augmentation of certain existing facilities. Under Project Seabird Phase 2, the Karwar naval station will get an airbase, armament depot, dockyard complex and missile silos, apart from additional jetties, berthing and anchorage facilities.
The Indian Navy indicated that after the completion of Project Seabird Phase 2A by 2017-18, around 30 major warships will be based at Karwar. To begin with, Indian Navy will deploy the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya), Scorpene submarines and a number of surface ships at the base. In addition, a Naval Air Station will be established there for deploying fixed and rotary wing ship-based military aircraft. The eventual aim is to base 50 major warships at Karwar after Phase-2B is completed.
The Project Seabird has been a victim of various delays and cost-overruns since it was conceived in 1985. The first Phase of the expansion was completed at a cost of roughly $584.25 million in 2005-06 enabling the Navy to base more than 15 warships at Karwar. Despite a slow start, India has managed to pull the project through with the main intention of decongesting naval dockyards at Mumbai.
The Karwar naval base is India’s third major naval base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam on the east coast. Unlike Mumbai or Vizag base, Karwar is the only naval base in India exclusively available to Indian Navy. The expansion of the naval base will turn Karwar into the largest Defence zone, not only in India, but also in Asia. Considered as India’s third largest naval base, the Karwar Naval Base has also been considered the perfect place to initiate submarine operations due to its depth of water.
The Navy plans to operate at least three SSBNs and six SSNs in the long run for effective nuclear deterrence.The Karwar base will aid the navy’s blue-water operations in the Indian Ocean region and provide Indian Navy with the much-needed operational flexibility and strategic advantage. Besides, the naval base will protect the country’s Arabian Sea maritime routes. The base is also valuable for its location and its ability to move beyond the fundamental capacity and security limitations of India’s other two naval base.
Karwar can currently base 11 major warships and 10 yard-craft after completion of its Phase-I at a cost of Rs 2,629 crore. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) had last year approved Rs 13,000 crore for its expansion under Phase-IIA to ensure it can berth 32 major warships and submarines by 2018-19.2
Karwar will be the home base for aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov being refitted in Russia for $2.33 billion, as well as the six French Scorpene submarines being built at Mazagon Docks for Rs 23,562 crore.
Though it is still very early for Project Varsha to come up, some bill it as an answer to China’s massive underground nuclear submarine base at Yalong on the southernmost tip of Hainan Island, which houses its new Shang-class SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) and the Jin-class SSBNs (nuclear- powered submarines with long-range nuclear missiles).
Although land acquisitions and incremental development work on the base under the secretive project kicked off a few years ago, it is set to take off in a major way with the construction of tunnels, jetties, depots, workshops and accommodation. “Further land acquisitions for the sprawling base to be spread over 20 sq km are now underway, with long-term budget allocations also being planned,” said a defence source.3
With the completion of these projects in the next three to five years India will have an edge over the Chinese Navy…The endeavour dovetails into the overall policy to bolster force-levels on the eastern seaboard, with new warships, aircraft and spy drones as well as forward-operating (FOP) and operational turnaround (OTR) bases, to counter China’s expanding footprint in the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Naval assets to protect India’s long coastline and keep watch over the crucial trade corridors in the Indian Ocean are essential to Indian interests. The strategic value of force projection beyond the Andaman Islands is seen in terms of deterrence as well given the aggressive military Chinese expansion.
India’s own SSBN programme is also poised to turn the corner soon with sea trials of the 6,000-tonne INS Arihant slated to begin off Visakhapatnam. INS Arihant and its three “follow-on” SSBNs, which will complete India’s elusive nuclear weapon triad since they will be armed with the `K’ series of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, as well as other frontline warships will be housed at the new base.4
The Navy plans to operate at least three SSBNs and six SSNs in the long run for effective nuclear deterrence. Moreover, after inducting the 8,140-tonne INS Chakra submarine on a 10-year lease from Russia last year, India is now negotiating the lease of another such nuclear-powered Akula-II class submarine, as was reported earlier.
With the completion of these projects in the next three to five years India will have an edge over the Chinese Navy, which is a welcome step.