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ENC at the forefront of Act east Policy

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The Indian navy plays a paramount role in protecting the maritime interest of the country and has for decades kept our maritime borders and assets safe while also playing a crucial role in humanitarian assistance whenever the need has risen.

Of the three operational commands of the Indian Navy the Eastern naval command (ENC) is the largest command (geographically) not only in the Indian Navy but among all the armed forces commands in India.

It therefore plays a pivotal role in safeguarding our maritime interests and is also an important organisation for Indigenisation. In fact IN has been at the forefront of Indigenisation/self-reliance long before the clarion call on Atmanirbharta.

The ENC is currently headed by Vice Admiral Rajesh Pendharkar, AVSM, VSM who assumed charge as the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Eastern Naval Command (ENC) on August 1st 2023.

Commissioned into the Indian Navy in Jan 1987, VADM Pendharkar is an Anti-Submarine Warfare specialist and has held various Operational, Staff and Command Appointments in the course of his distinguished career spanning over 36 years. The Flag Officer is a recipient of the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal for his distinguished service.

In an exclusive interview to Vizag Industrial Scan VADM Pendharkar talks elaborately on the mandate of ENC, its efforts in safeguarding our maritime borders, Atmanirbharta, work with MSMEs and other aspects.

Sir the ENC is the largest command (geographically) among all the armed forces commands in India. For the benefit of our readers could you illustrate the significance of ENC and its broader mandate? 

The Area of Responsibility or AOR of Eastern Naval Command extends from the East Coast of India to Western Pacific and up to the Southern Indian Ocean in the South. The area corresponds to 25 million square kilometres, which is approximately five times the land mass of India and largest naval command in terms of AOR. The Eastern Seaboard has a coastline of 2562 km, spanning across 04 coastal states, which is dotted with 07 major ports, 31 minor ports and numerous Vital Assets & Vital Points, and Off Shore Developmental Areas. In addition, the Command also monitors International Maritime Boundary Line with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. 

The primary role of the Command is to ensure maritime security in the AOR. Towards this, the Command undertakes 24×7 surveillance, including at the strategic choke points and develops comprehensive situational awareness of all maritime activities within the AOR. The Command also maintains combat ready platforms on patrol in various sectors of the AOR as Mission deployed assets. This way our assets are prepositioned for immediate response to any developing situation in the area in which they are deployed. During these deployments these platforms perform various roles that are broadly grouped as Military, Diplomatic, Constabulary and Benign. The inherent character of naval forces make it possible for them to perform more than one of these four roles on a single mission, as also enable them to swiftly shift from one role to another while being deployed in an area.

The Act east policy/ neighbourhood first policy has been a major thrust area of the Indian Navy. If you could briefly explain what this entails for this region. 

The Indian Navy is one of the major organisations in the country that contributes significantly to the nation’s ‘Act East’ policy, and the Eastern Naval Command is at the forefront of the Navy’s efforts. We have stepped up our engagement with Navies of ASEAN and Pacific regions. These engagements are in the form of bilateral or multilateral exercises, port visits, subject matter expert exchanges, and providing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in times of natural calamities affecting any of the littoral states. IN has been regularly deploying assets to the Indo-Pacific region to participate in various structured multilateral/ bilateral exercises viz RIMPAC, Kakadu, Malabar etc with the Friendly Foreign Countries to improve interoperability and imbibe best practices. Additionally, upon specific requests from some countries, our assets are also deployed to provide assistance for joint patrolling of their EEZ or for training their maritime agencies. Such During the 14th East Asia Summit (EAS) held on 04 Nov 19 at Bangkok, Thailand, Hon’ble PM Shri Narendra Modi, announced Indo Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) as an open global initiative. Aside from Japan and US, Indonesia is now steering the discussions on an ASEAN vision of the Indo Pacific titled ASEAN Outlook on Indo Pacific (AOIP). 

Given the few recent incidents of Indian ships and crew being attacked how well prepared is ENC in dealing with such scenarios and how secure are merchant ships in this region. 

The recent past has seen incidents of piracy and asymmetric attacks against MVs in the N/Central Arabian Sea. In response, the Indian Navy is conducting enhanced maritime security operations and has deployed over 10 warships with marine commandos and also maritime reconnaissance assets. Our operational assets are always maintained in a combat ready state with capabilities to meet challenges across the spectrum of conflict.  In fact, two ships and maritime reconnaissance assets from the Eastern Naval Command are also part of the ongoing operation in the Arabian Sea.

What are some of the new additions (assets) that will be stationed at ENC? 

The command is likely to induct 20/ 25 indigenous ships by 2037. These include Nilgiri class frigates, Next Generation Corvettes, Diving Support Vessels, Survey Vessels, ASW shallow water craft, MH 60R helicopters, upgraded Kamov 28, Medium lift aircraft C-295 etc.

HSL was recently awarded a mega order from the Indian Navy for building 5 FSS. How would this change Indian Navy’s partnership with HSL going forward?

The Indian Navy’s relationship with HSL has always been robust. In addition to having built Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Navy earlier, many refits of our ships and submarines have also been undertaken by HSL. We therefore, see HSL as a force multiplier, and a significant entity in the Navy’s steadfast march towards Atmanirbharta. Currently, M/s HSL is building 02xDSVs and one SSP which are likely to be delivered by 2024. With the signing of contract for building 05xFSS, the relationship between Indian Navy and HSL has undoubtedly become stronger. The first FSS will be delivered to IN by 24 Aug 27 and the last ship by 24 Dec 30. 

(FSS is 45000 T vessel with cargo capacity of LSHSD of 20000T, AVCAT of 2500T, Fresh Water of 1000T, Distilled Water of 250T and a complement of 215 personnel inclusive of 25 Officers).

The Gol has a strong emphasis on self-reliance and make in India. For ENC specifically what are some of the initiatives you would like to highlight in regards to Atmanirbharta. 

Over the recent few years, Indian Navy has enhanced efforts for indigenisation in close liaison with DRDO, DPSUs, Private Sector, MSMEs, Start Ups and academia. These efforts in turn are bridging the capability gap that exists in development of indigenous equipment. Indigenisation in the Indian Defence industry has been a cornerstone of India’s Make in India (MII) programme since latter’s inception in 2014. The ongoing wars in the Black Sea and the Middle East have added urgency to these efforts. Various initiatives have been taken by IN in recent past for achieving the vision of self-reliance in manufacturing and supporting equipment through optimum participation from defence industrial base and private sector. Let me highlight some of the major ones: –

  1. IN’s indigenisation drive over the last few years has resulted in achieving substantial Aatmanirbharta in the field of Hull, Machinery and electrical/ electronic equipment. 
  2. With the thrust given to ‘Make in India’ and necessary policy support by the GoI, IN has leveraged new schemes viz., Make, TDF, iDEX, etc. Multiple channels are being used in both capital and revenue procurements to increase indigenous content and to indigenise equipment and systems. 
  3. The Navy has engaged with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to promote the production of components and subsystems thereby supporting local industry while mitigating the challenges associated with availability of foreign origin spares. The procurement procedure has been simplified to make it easier for MSMEs to participate in the defence contracts. Indian Navy regularly organises workshop to encourage MSMEs as part of Make in India. Towards emphasis on self-reliance and make in India, a missile Conclave-cum-Symposium ‘Aatmanirbharta in Missile Repairs and Indigenisation Technologies’ (AMRIT-23) was conducted at Visakhapatnam on 24 Aug 23. 
  4. Interactions with vendors are being undertaken towards providing a single common platform to closely interact with naval units undertaking indigenisation/ repairs of electronic modules and to also identify interested vendors capable of undertaking indigenisation/ repairs of proposals projected. A workshop on indigenisation was conducted at Visakhapatnam for this purpose.
  5. Missile Cum Ammunition (MCA) Barge, Yard 75 (LSAM 7) was launched on
    24 Feb 23 at Guttenedevi, the launch site of M/s SECON, Visakhapatnam, which is a MSME. With all major and auxiliary equipment/ systems sourced from indigenous manufacturers, this Barge is proud flag bearer of “Make in India” initiative of Ministry of Defence. 

MSMEs play a paramount role in the supply eco-system of major PSUs. How important are MSMEs to ENC? 

With advancement of industry, the weapon, electrical and engineering systems onboard potent platforms are facing obsolescence challenges at a fast rate. The dependence on the international market is required to be reduced and more importantly, the same is to be seen as an opportunity for Indian defence industry to design and develop inhouse. 

MSMEs in India, have by and large, have been subcontractors for principle OEMs and Integrators in past. Their efforts now must be focussed towards developing expertise in manufacturing complete assemblies for Indian Navy and transit towards becoming integrator themselves rather than being mere supplier to major firms. Alternatively, MSMEs should be encouraged to approach IN integrators like M/s L&T, BEL, BHEL, etc. so as to showcase their capabilities towards equipment indigenisation. Moreover, a focus by the MSMEs towards niche capabilities to develop control system PLCs, PCBs, weapon related electronics etc. could also significantly contribute towards developing the indigenous defence manufacturing ecosystem..

What are some of the initiatives that ENC has taken/ is taking in connecting with the local/regional MSMEs? 

The MSMEs are being supported by repairs and services requirements of the Navy. A number of AMCs and RRCs have been concluded by the Naval Dockyard and Fleet Maintenance Unit Visakhapatnam on MSMEs. In addition, repairs and indigenization of modules of foreign origin equipment are largely undertaken by MSMEs. Towards this, a missile Conclave-cum-Symposium ‘Aatmanirbharta in Missile Repairs and Indigenisation Technologies’ (AMRIT-23) was conducted on 24 Aug 23. Also, a workshop on indigenisation was conducted at WED(V) to provide a single common platform for vendors to closely interact with naval units involved in indigenisation.

Currently, numerous MSMEs at ENC are engaged by various Defence, Private Shipyards mostly engaging local/ pan India MSMEs for construction of war ships and repair of Ships /Submarines, utilizing solely indigenous sources to fulfil their requirements. So far as the Make in India schemes of Government are concerned, ENC is at the forefront of progressing indigenous development through the Indigenisation Unit at HQENC, which also has engaged many local and regional MSMEs for indigenisation process of equipment and systems onboard warships of foreign origin.

ND(V) provides enabling atmosphere for MSMEs and has relaxed the qualification criteria in Offloading/ Financial cases. Procurement of all services and goods is undertaken through the GeM portal to expand the vendor base. During the bidding process, MSMEs are accorded purchase preference and are exempted from the annual turnover clause. This has resulted in healthy participation from MSMEs, with placement of over 800 Work Orders in the current financial year.

Some MSMEs opine that the ENC doesn’t accord much work to the local MSMEs and that non regional MSMEs get more orders, leaving local MSMEs shortchanged. How would you like to respond to that?

The involvement of MSMEs in Navy’s indigenisation program is vital for both the user as well as growth of the industry itself. Towards the same, Eastern Naval Command will provide all necessary assistance to local MSMEs in the form of provisioning technical specifications, samples, drawings and available facilities for testing. The MSMEs could approach HQENC through IU(East), Eksila and other Indigenisation Technical Sub-Committees like Naval Dockyard to synergise their capabilities with user requirements. The firms are therefore adequately assured for return on their investment in these indigenisation efforts and suitable hand-holding will be ensured by ENC. With the advent of GeM based processing of cases, the bidding system has shifted to OTE based platform, which is more transparent and firms from all over India have equal opportunity for bidding. However, few tenders are being published on LTE and STE basis as per the criticality of work.

What according to you are some of the key areas where private industry/MSMEs can truly participate and make a difference in? 

We all would agree that India cannot continue to depend upon imports for military hardware. Atmanirbharta is therefore the ‘mool mantra’ for long term security needs of this country. The warship production process is classified into four categories, Float, Move, Fight and Survive. The equipment in these categories has been indigenised to the extent of approximately 90% under Float, 60% under Move and 50%/ 60% under Fight. We would very much like the local industry including the MSMEs to help us in closing these gaps.

The Navy has engaged with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises to promote the production of components and subsystems thereby supporting local industry. The procurement procedure has been simplified to make it easier for MSMEs to participate in the defence contracts. Indian Navy regularly organises workshop to encourage MSMEs as part of Make in India. These efforts in turn have bridged the capability gap that existed in developing indigenised equipment by ensuring close liaison with DRDO, DPSUs, Private Sector, MSMEs, Start Ups and academia.

Few of the other key areas where MSMEs can contribute are the services other than OEM specific viz, de-gutting, re-gutting, manufacturing of pipes, fabrication works, hull works etc which would help in creating a larger vendor base and also ensures positive competition between the vendors.

Having said that what are some of challenges ENC faces while dealing with local MSMEs and what would your advice to them for working with the Indian Navy.

With the advent of GeM based processing of cases, the bidding system has shifted to OTE based platform which is more transparent and firms from all over India have equal opportunity for bidding. Further, incentives given to the MSME firms by DPM and Gen Financial Rules allows a wider and larger participation of the MSME firms. 

However, some of the challenges faced while dealing with MSMEs involved in Indigenisation include limited technical know-how, requirement of handholding at every stage of processing cases, development and trials of units. In addition, the firms need an assurance for large volume of order to make it profitable. 

Advice to the MSMEs would be that, there is a vast scope for indigenisation in the field of machinery spares, weapons and sensors. Success in indigenising any unit will only enhance the capability of the firm and increase chances of future orders.

Startups are today redefining many operational procedures with their innovative and technological prowess. Has ENC been engaging with startups in some of its requirements? 

India has emerged as one of the fastest growing and largest start-up ecosystems in the world. With the implementation of govt. initiatives, such as Start-up India and Digital India, there has been a significant increase in the no. of start-ups in the Indian defence sector. With increasing cyber threats and the need for advanced defence technology, these start-ups are leveraging innovation to develop cutting-edge solutions for military applications. Through the GoI’s Make-in-India initiatives, viz Make-II, iDEX and TDF schemes, we are currently engaged with more than 100 MSMEs/ Startups for a variety of projects pertaining to development of niche defence technologies. Whilst the Indian navy has achieved success in ship design, construction and system integration we have some distance to cover to realise complete self-reliance in terms of naval systems including certain weapons and sensors. Our focus is now directed towards a self-reliant industry for Naval systems with a capability to provide scalable technology upgrades and long-term sustainability.

Senior representatives of the state government have evinced their desire of making a defence hub/park in the state. Have there been any concrete discussions with the Indian Navy regarding this with the state government/senior authorities?

There have been no specific initiatives indicated to us in this direction. However, the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM) is an apex body and the defence arm of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). It acts as an important link between the defence forces, Government and the industry to promote active involvement of MSMEs. 

An issue which has been constantly revved in the media is the operation of the Vizag airport and the allocated timings. Some industry stakeholders claim to say there aren’t enough slots given for commercial operations and that this limits the economic growth of the region. Could you clarify Navy’ stance on this. 

(a) Airfield Capacity. The hourly capacity of handling aircraft traffic on unidirectional main runway (Rwy 10/28) was 10 aircraft movements (Civil and Military) per hour till 16 Aug 21. Post commissioning of N5 Taxi link on Civil Dispersal, the capacity has been increased to 12 aircraft movements per hour. This capacity makes it to a total of 288 aircraft movement in 24 hours period. Only 80 aircraft movements out of 288, have been kept for military aircraft based on operational requirement and training commitments. Balance 208 aircraft movement are reserved for civil traffic. However, only 81 aircraft movement slots are utilized presently. The balance 127 aircraft movement slots are still not being utilized by civil airlines operators to date.

(b) Air Traffic Management Facilities. Air Traffic Services and Airport Rescue & Firefighting Coverage are available at Dega round the clock. Further, Air Traffic Control is manned 24X7 to accommodate all flying operations/commitments. Hence, there is no limitation or restrictions from the Air Station to operate civil aircraft at any scheduled timings. 

(c) Summary. It is evident that only 39% (81 out 208) of the allocated slots are being utilized by Civil aircraft. Despite increase in Runway capacity and 24X7 availability of all Air Traffic Management Facilities, the allocated slots are under-utilized by the Civil Airline operators.

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