NEW DELHI: Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar on Saturday said that India keeps track of the Chinese spy and fishing vessels operating in the Indian Ocean region (IOR) so that they do not indulge in any illegal activities in the Indian maritime zone. Addressing a press conference a day ahead of Navy Day, Adm Kumar said that the proposal for a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-II) has been put on hold.
"There are a lot of Chinese ships that operate in the Indian Ocean region. We have the presence of anything between 4 and 6 PLA Navy ships, then some research vessels that operate. A large number of Chinese fishing vessels also operate in the IOR. We keep a close watch on all developments," Adm Kumar said at the annual press conference.
He pointed out that around 60 or so other extra-regional forces are also always present in the IOR. "We are aware it's a vital region through which a large amount of trade and energy flows happen. Our job is to see that India's interests in the maritime domain are protected; towards this, we keep a close watch and track them," he said.
Adm Kumar said that Chinese fishing vessels operate not just in the Indian Ocean but all over the world. "Our job is to keep track of where they are operating and whether they are intruding in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ)," he said.
The Navy Chief said that the Indian Navy has robust surveillance mechanisms through ships, aircraft and space-based sensors. "We are aware of where they are operating. We keep track of it and we ensure that they don't intrude into our EEZ and do illegal activities within the maritime zone of India," he said.
He said that the first and foremost task of the Navy "is to maintain a credible deterrence while remaining ready to go into harm’s way to protect, preserve and promote our national interests."
Adm Kumar said that the Navy aims to become self-reliant by 2047.
Talking about the proposed procurement of a fleet of 30-armed Predator drones from the United States, the Navy Chief said, "The case for the procurement is under process. We are discussing whether the numbers have to be rationalised."
In 2020, the Indian Navy had taken on lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones from General Atomics for a period of one year for surveillance in the Indian Ocean. The lease period has been extended. "We have gained good experience while operating the leased drones," Adm Kumar said.
On the issue of the second indigenous aircraft carrier, Adm Kumar said that the Indian Navy is currently discussing whether to go for the IAC-II or prefer a repeat order for the IAC-I.
"We are still working on what size it should be and what its capabilities should be. Right now, we have put a hold on it because we have just commissioned INS Vikrant (IAC-I). We are quite happy with the ship. The way the ship performed in the trial," Adm Kumar.
The Navy has been making a strong push for the IAC-II with a 65,000 tonnes displacement that is estimated to cost close to `50,000 crores with the envisaged specifications.
India's first indigenously built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was commissioned in September. The aircraft carrier, with a displacement of 40,000 tonnes, was built at a cost of around `23,000 crores.
According to sources, the cost of building the IAC-II is a major discussion point. Some in the defence establishment argue that the Navy should focus on enhancing its fleet of submarines rather than spending close to `50,000 crores on the aircraft carrier.
The Navy Chief said that after the adoption of new naval ensign, an exercise is underway in the force to shed the colonial past. "We strongly support the view that we have to get away from this ‘Ghulami ki mansikta’ (slave mentality)," he said.
On the issue of eight former Indian Navy personnel being held in Qatar on unspecified charges, the Navy Chief said that they have been continuously trying to resolve the issue and have raised it at the highest leadership level. "We are hopeful that it will be resolved," he said.
Adm Kumar said that the Navy has inducted its first batch of Agniveers, comprising 3,000 recruits who are currently undergoing training at INS Chilka. "Importantly, this batch of Agniveers includes 341 women trainees, again a transformational step. While we already have women officers posted on frontline units, they will soon be joined by women in all ranks," he added.