Chopper shortage blunts Indian Navy edge in war game
Indian warships have reached the Pacific island of Guam for the first naval exercises here that will focus on hunting submarines and operating jointly with the US and Japanese forces. The Indian ships lack a critical asset – a naval multirole helicopter – that will limit their ability to track American nuclear-powered submarine and a Japanese conventional submarine that are part of the war games.
The Indian Navy has been trying to procure these helicopters, which enable warships to locate and take down enemy submarines beyond the limited radius of onboard sensors, for years without success. The last attempt in 2005 ended in failure with the Navy now looking to get the advanced MH 60 ‘Romeo’ choppers from the US in direct government purchase.
Till that is done, Indian warships like the INS Kamorta – a specialised antisubmarine corvette in Guam – will be limited in their ability to hunt submarines in the Indian Ocean Region. And that is a major gap in a vital region due to the increasing presence of Chinese submarines operating near Indian waters under the garb of antipiracy patrols.
A senior Indian Naval officer told ET the Indian ships will only be operating Chetak choppers for utility missions but will rely on its P81 – a fixed wing maritime aircraft – for long range antisubmarine missions during the exercise.
“We would have wanted a naval multi-role helicopter for such missions, but that is missing from the inventory. Hopefully we get it soon,” the officer said.
The Navy requires at least 123 of the Naval Multi Role Helicopters (NMRH) and had released a global request for information in August 2017. This, however, has not progressed as fast as the Navy would have liked, leading to the consideration of the US offer for a direct government sale of the Romeo.
The NMRH are required to replace the Sea King fleet and the Navy has named it as one of its most critical needs at several top government presentations. It will now get real time experience of the Romeos during the exercise.
Over the next two weeks in Guam –the theatre for an intense WW2 battle in 1944 when US forces stormed in to take it back from Japan– the three naval forces will carry out a variety of drills. Ranging from interception of vessels at sea to anti surface operations and air defence missions, these drills will be the ‘most complex’ war games carried out as part of the Malabar series that began 26 years ago, top Indian Navy officers said.
This is also the first wargame being carried out after the US renamed its Hawai-based command as the Indo Pacific Command – a clear indication of the growing importance it attaches to an Indian role in the region.
From the US side, the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier as well as Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine will take part while the Japanese self defence forces will be represented by their largest warship, the JDS Ise helicopter carrier as well as Soryu class submarine.