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Navy trying to get ‘maximum bang for the buck’ — Admiral Karambir Singh rues fund crunch

Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh says the force's share of defence budget has decreased from 18% in 2012-13 to 13% in 2019-20.

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New Delhi: The Indian Navy has sought additional funds from the government to cope with severe financial crunch, forcing it to rework its aim of having a 200-ship strong fleet by 2027 at a time the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is undergoing massive modernisation of its fleet.

The issue of financial crunch was flagged by Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh at a press conference Tuesday, on the eve of Navy Day. He pointed out that the Navy’s share of defence budget has decreased from 18 per cent in 2012-13 to 13 per cent in 2019-20.

“It is a fact that our budget has decreased. We have projected this. Our hope is that we will get some money and accordingly we will prioritise,” Singh said.

The latest instance of fund crunch was observed last week when the Defence Acquisition Council cleared acquisition of only six platforms of P8I, the long-range maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, while the Navy had proposed 10.

Talking about the 200-ship plan — reiterated by the Navy for several years — Singh said he has now asked his officers to maximise each ship rather than count them.

“More important is what you pack into a ship. The more lethal and modern it is, the more value is added,” he said.

The Navy currently has about 130 ships, including the submarines, and another 48 under construction. Singh also pointed out that while ships will be added, some of the old ones will also get decommissioned.

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Delayed projects

Replying to a question by ThePrint regarding the impact of fund crunch, at a time when China is undergoing massive modernisation of its naval forces, the Navy chief simply said each force is doing its best according to their respective capabilities.

“China is moving at a pace it is capable of. We are moving at a pace we are capable of. Our (Indian Navy) aim is to get maximum bang for the buck,” Singh said.

But a number of naval projects have remained stuck, mainly due to financial crunch. These include the Project 75 India, under which six new conventional submarines are to be built, and the second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) initiative. The Navy is also in dire need of modernising its helicopter fleet, which is delayed at various stages.

“There is only limited money in my wallet and every year it is coming down. There are many reasons for the new projects being delayed but the underlying factor is that there is no money. The Navy is deliberately going slow on many projects and had even revised some of the acquisition plans,” a senior Navy officer told ThePrint.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy, an arch rival of the Indian Navy, is already making increased forays in the Indian Ocean Region. The country has added about 80 ships in the last five years to bolster its naval capability. Its frenzied focus on modernising the naval forces has also caught the eyes of the US.

Former Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba had also said no naval force has grown so rapidly in the last 200 years as the Chinese Navy and the focus has been on building battle carrier group.

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