Indian Navy's battle readiness was put to test in the Bay of Bengal and its "future ready" status is being challenged during a theatre-level maritime exercise in the Bay of Bengal, with it’s over 50-year-old INS Viraat lone aircraft carrier and the latest stealth frigate INS Shivalik as the backbone of its operations.
The exercise was witnessed by Defence Minister AK Antony and Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma, along with Eastern Naval Commander Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, who all boarded the Viraat and Shivalik off Visakhapatnam on Feb 7 and 8.
Over 40 surface combatants, submarines, and a large number of naval and air force aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles participate in the exercise that will continue for another week or so, in a demonstration of jointness between the navy and air force, apart from the networked fleet that can operate in a dense electronic environment.
"New platforms, weapons sensors, communication systems and tactics are being tested and tried to optimise the net combat power of the fleets. As would be the case in any operation of the 21st century, the exercise had a jointmanship element as IAF aircraft such as AWACS, Sukhois, Mirages and Jaguars," a defence ministry official said.
Antony landed on board INS Shivalik first and witnessed it execute manoeuvres and operations such as "surface gun shoot" and "Jackstay" with INS Shakti, another newly inducted fleet tanker.
Shivalik was commissioned on April 29, 2010, while INS Shakti was commissioned on October 1, 2011. Both ships have been integrated into the Eastern Fleet.
The transformation of the Indian Navy into "a future ready" network-enabled force was demonstrated by both Shivalik and Viraat, which the defence minister boarded later.
Viraat, the flag ship of the Western Fleet, enabled Antony to get a glimpse of a networked force, as operational plots and pictures from remote sensors were transferred and collated on board the aircraft carrier to present a comprehensive picture of the battle space and effect an optimal use of the weapons on board the various warships.
The air complement of Viraat, the recently upgraded Sea Harriers, now have an extended range in the form of air-to-air refueling and beyond visual range missile capabilities. The Seakings and Chetaks too were on operational display.
The Indian Air Force's Su-30MKIs, Mirages and Jaguars, being directed by an airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) and operating over sea for the first time, tested the air defence capability of Viraat, even as the Indian Navy warships were operating in a multi- threat scenario.
During this battle, Antony witnessed firsthand the upgraded Sea Harriers in operation in the networked environment.
A critical part of anti-missile defence being surface-to-air missiles (SAM), he also got to witness a successful interception of a fast, low flying, surface-to-surface missile by a SAM, on a clear night.
He was also given a taste of a successful indigenous BrahMos supersonic long-range anti-ship missile from a recently up-graded INS Ranvir, a Rajput class destroyer.
From close quarters, Antony watched as Indian Navy commandos or MARCOS carry out precision landing on Viraat's flight deck using their combat free fall technique.
Addressing the Viraat crew, Antony noted that INS Vikramaditya (the erstwhile Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier from Russia) will join Viraat by early 2013 and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier under construction at Kochi will join a few year later.
Pointing out that the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes had changed the security matrix of the country, he said the entire nation now acknowledged the critical requirement of maritime security and the important role of the Indian Navy.
The minister added, "...wherever we go (abroad), Indian Navy is the most sought after service...numerous countries want more cooperation with the Indian Navy."