The Indian Navy is embarking on a 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. The expansion of the Karwar naval base will occur under Project Seabird Phase II-A which will entail construction of facilities to the tune of roughly $ 2 billion. A proposal is in the process to be forwarded to Cabinet Committee on Security chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for final approval.
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 II, 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 IIA 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-IIB 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 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.