In a matter of few days, two of India’s shipyards have launched their offshore patrol vessels (OPV). This is significant for a variety of reasons. It demonstrates confidence in private participation in warship construction, enhances India’s maritime security, promotes military-to-military relations with the Indian Ocean countries and supports the Make in India initiative.
One of the shipyards is Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited which launched two OPVs for the Indian Navy with three more under construction. These ships will be equipped with better surveillance and communication equipment along with weapons for offensive and defensive purposes. The ships functions will be controlled through Integrated Platform Management System that provides a common operational picture of the ship.
According to Vice Admiral Girish Luthra,Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command, these OPVs are the first to be launched by India’s private shipyard. He commented that private participation in India’s defence production is a key national capability while advising for improving the overall efficiency of the country’s shipyards to global standards.
Raising the production standards is imperative for capturing the burgeoning global OPV market. In fact, OPV segment is the fastest growing in the naval vessels market. Asia occupies majority share in operational numbers at 44 percent as well as OPVs on order at 46 percent. Of this, India alone captured 26 percent of total orders worldwide.
One of these orders is from Sri Lanka. The state owned Goa shipyard recently launched an advanced OPV for the Sri Lankan navy which had set sail for Colombo after acceptance trials. The shipyard completed the project 86 days ahead of schedule and will be soon delivering the second and final boat in this order.
The managerial efficiency and technical competence ledGoa shipyard to emerge as one of the key playersin the international OPV market. India entered the global defence export market when it financed and built an OPV for Mauritius. It had also issued $100 million line of credit to Vietnam for acquiringOPVs which will be built in India.
These orders will in turn help increase the efficiency of India’s shipyards and creating a sophisticated research and industrial base within the country. Employment opportunities will be improved in both skilled and unskilled sectors, not to mention indirect economic benefits. Thus, the emerging OPV market is a direct contributor to Make in India initiative. Defence production is assumed to play the biggest role in this initiative by making India a major defence manufacturing and maintenance hub. Private sector participation is expected to bring competition amongst the shipyards leading to improvement in production standards.
India will also enjoy improved military-to-military relations with its neighbouring countries owing to commonality of equipment and personnel training, and the common desire to secure Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).India routinely conducts surveillance for Seychelles, Mauritius and Maldives which have extensive EEZs under their jurisdiction but lacking resources. EEZ policing involves countering piracy, securing offshore assets, pollution control, disaster relief, maintaining coastal security, protecting shipping lanes, busting illegal movement of arms, preventing drug smuggling etc.
Maritime terrorism trumps these concerns with the Indian Ocean being a hotbed of these activities. The Sea Tigers of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelamwere known to attacking Sri Lankan navy. More recently, terrorists crippled USS Cole by ramming it with explosives. Terrorists attempted hijacking Pakistan warships and use them against high value naval assets belonging to India and the United States. India is the major victim of maritime terrorism when Mumbai was struck from the sea in 2008.
These events, particularly the 2008 attack, served as wakeup call for strengthening the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). It maintains five classes of OPVs totaling 17 boats. However, various Indian shipyards are busy augmenting the current fleet strength.
The OPVs are not the standalone solution to maritime challenges but a critical component of a system of systems approach. The OPVs with integrated sensor suites and weapon systems have to synergise with other naval and coast guard platforms. Air support is a crucial asset helping extend the sensor range, detection of threats and guiding of weapons.
Based on these facts, India should proactively reach out to Asian and African countries which have long coastlines but lacking resources for fighting a variety of maritime challenges. Improving partner capacity not only directly enhances India’s own maritime security but also improves strategic relations as well as bring economic benefits. India’s projects such as SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and Mausam would require such enhanced maritime security for effective implementation.
The OPVs have demonstrated their resilience in fighting maritime security challenges. The recent launch of these vessels by domestic and private shipyards for both domestic and foreign customers demonstrates India’s growing indigenous defence production capabilities. It stands to gain further economic and military benefits by improving production facilities and standards at the shipyards.