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With China making forays, Antony asks Navy to assert in IOR

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Indian Defence Minister A K Antony addresses the Naval Commandersí Conference, in New Delhi on Wednesday. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar are also seen. PTI Photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): With China making frequent forays into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Indian Defence Minister A K Antony has asked the Navy to assert its hold over the IOR and ensure it remained that way in the future.

Inaugurating a four-day Navy Commanders Conference Wednesday, Antony also wanted the maritime force to increase its contacts with the navies of other IOR countries to strengthen ties, mutual trust with them and to streamline joint operations.

"The complex maritime security environment in our region requires the Navy to maintain a state of perpetual readiness operationally. You must factor in the need to be ready at all times prominently, while planning for the future.

"At the same time, we need to maintain -- and even increase the momentum of our navy-to-navy contact with the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean. Such contacts strengthen professional ties, mutual trust and streamline inter-operability issues," he said in his address.

Noting that the navy's manifold responsibilities in the IOR were crucial as well as sensitive from the nation's economic prosperity, safety and security point of view, he said India's maritime interest must "guide and shape" the conduct of naval operations during peace and creation of futuristic capabilities.

The Navy commanders will during the conference discuss the idea of India being the "net security provider" for IOR and how it could take up this role in a much more assertive manner.

This debate comes at a time when China has been maintaining naval units in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations and its warships have been making frequent visits to IOR nations, apart from helping out Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in building ports.

Referring to piracy as "a major area of concern" in IOR, the Minister said navy's presence in the sea brigands-affected areas showed India's commitment and resolve to contribute its might in dealing with such threats.

Stressing the need for more contacts with other maritime nations in a calibrated manner, Antony said, "There is a need to sustain the momentum of cooperation with Sri Lanka to ensure peaceful fishing on either side of the International Maritime Boundary Line and to prevent a possible resurgence of the LTTE."

He also said New Delhi was committed to the continued deployment of ships and aircraft for enhanced surveillance off the coast of Maldives and Seychelles to ensure maritime security from piracy, who have of late ventured into those waters from the Gulf of Aden off Somali coast.

"We also need to engage like-minded African states in the western IOR such as Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya to enhance our strengths and contribute to peace and stability, not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but also in the entire IOR," he added.

Calling for more investment towards financial and human resources in defence Research and Development, Antony said the need to modernise and introduce innovation in Indian shipyards could "never be over-emphasized." He was of the opinion that shipyards must meet contractual timelines and enhance quality standards.

He also emphasised on the enhanced role for the private sector in helping India achieve self-reliance in critical technologies and said the government wanted to "give a greater role" to them to encourage healthy competition in the defence sector.

Referring to the on-going review of Defence Procurement Procedure 2008, the Minister said it would enhance induction of capability along with self-reliance.

The Minister assured the naval commanders that wherever required, import options would be considered to meet operational requirements.

"However, this option must be an exception and not the rule," the Minister added.

On the creation of operational and administrative infrastructure in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, the Defence Minister wanted it to be accorded "due priority" in close coordination with all stakeholders.

He said the government had already accorded approval for forward operating bases for the Navy at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu and Paradip in Orissa, apart from increasing the facilities in Chennai in Tamil Nadu and Porbandar in Gujarat.

In his address, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma emphasized that Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) was the "very core of maritime security" and said the creation of a National MDA Network was critical to stay ahead of adversaries through better intelligence gathering in the IOR.

Verma said apart from induction of new platforms and systems, optimum utilisation of in-service assets was essential.

He noted the significant improvement in the operational availability of naval aircraft resulting from improved spares availability and maintenance efficiency.

This comment comes in the backdrop of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) having slammed the navy in one of its reports recently on the poor operational availability of naval air assets.

Verma commended the three naval Commands for integrating coastal population into its coastal security architecture through widespread campaigns and the progress made in the national MDA initiatives. Navy had held 33 such educational campaigns this year.

In the conference, the naval Commanders would deliberate on the availability of operational assets, progress of new projects and the critical need to maintain a close watch on submarine projects, apart from means to further improve operational availability of existing combat units in general and aircraft in particular.

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