With the mammoth aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya slated to reach Indian shores early next year, the government is finally scrambling to launch the long-delayed expansion of the strategic Karwar naval base in coastal Karnataka at a cost of around Rs 13,000 crore.
The Phase-IIA expansion of Karwar base, which gives the country both strategic depth and operational flexibility on the western seaboard, is being sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for the final nod after defence minister A K Antony approved it last week, sources said.
Defence secretary Shashikant Sharma also visited Karwar recently to take a look at the naval base, which can currently base 11 major warships and 10 smaller ships after Phase-I completion at a cost of Rs 2,629 crore.
Navy will be able to berth 32 major warships and submarines, and various other ships, including 10 of the 80 fast-interceptor craft (FICs), to be acquired for coastal security force Sagar Prahari Bal, after Phase-IIA is completed by 2018-19.
INS Vikramaditya, or the 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov being refitted by Russia for $2.33 billion, will be inducted much before that. With the congested Mumbai harbour not capable of handling INS Vikramaditya, some warships may have to be shifted out from Karwar to accommodate the carrier.
The six Scorpene submarines, being built at Mazagon Docks for Rs 23,562 crore and slated for induction in the 2015-2020 timeframe, will also be housed at Karwar. With its natural cover and depth of water, the base is ideal for stealthy submarine operations.
Karwar is India's third major naval base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam on the west coast, while Pakistan has five at Gwadar, Ormara, Karachi, Pasni and Jiwani.
Under Phase-IIA, Karwar will get an airbase, armament depot, dockyard complex and missile silos, apart from additional jetties, berthing and anchorage facilities. The eventual aim is to base 50 frontline warships at Karwar after Phase-IIB is completed.
This is critical for strategic needs since the Navy is steaming ahead on its modernization path with 44 warships, six Scorpene submarines, 95 FICs and 106 smaller ships like barges, tugs and vessels already on order.
In tune with the "maritime capability perspective plan'', another 45 warships are in the pipeline. These include six stealth submarines, seven stealth frigates, 16 coastal anti-submarine vessels, four massive landing platform docks and eight mine counter-measure vessels.
Overall, as first reported by TOI, Navy's ongoing conventional warship, submarine and maritime aircraft acquisition programme as well as proposed projects will together cost well over Rs 3,00,000 crore over the next 15 years.
On the strategic front, Navy plans to have three SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines with long-range nuclear missiles) and six SSNs (nuclear-powered attack submarines) in the long term. The first SSBN INS Arihant will become operational in first half of 2013.