Indian Navy At Sea Hold the line and build naval capacities is the common refrain that one hears on the Raisina Hill when it comes to the Indian counter to Chinese assertions over the tedious land border dispute and its muscle flexing on the high seas. It is actually quite a pragmatic solution to deal with China except there is a huge and widening gap between the Indian intent and the reality on ground. The Indian border infrastructure along the 3,488 kilometer Line of Actual Control (LAC) is work in progress with connecting roads being slowly built due to lack of funds, equipment, land acquisition problems, political impediments or in the name of environmental concerns. This is in sharp contrast to the Chinese side, where metallic black top highways exist from the zero line and are connected to far away Beijing. And on top of that there is Finance Ministry which wants the Defence Ministry to give it the state of Chinese threat to India if it wants the government to fund the force accretion in the Indian Army. Much has been written about the tardiness of Indian border infrastructure and there is much hope in Navyâ€™s capability to match any Chinese adventure along the LAC or in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Let us confine ourselves to the Indian Navyâ€™s capability and its capacity to vacate a Chinese threat if it ever were to be called upon by the government of the day. The fact is that Indian Navy always had a big vision but over the years the strength of its combatants has not been able to match its ambitions. While the Navy Headquarters may dream up expeditionary forces like US Navy fleets in future, the present force levels are not anywhere near the requirements. This is partly due to the delays in indigenous warship production as well declining capacities of Russian shipyards, which have been the mainstay of Indian Navy in the past. So while we talk about being the major naval player in the Indian Ocean, we have only a 50 year old aircraft carrier Viraat to rely on if it comes to expeditionary forces. Despite much delays and wrangling over money, the Russians have still to deliver Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier and our own indigenous air defence ship is still in the basic stages of development. It is not that the Chinese Navy is very superior, only that India is losing the edge and fast. The state of indigenous ship construction is hostage to PSU shipyards,which are unable to meet the production schedules and critical projects are getting delayed. With Indian bureaucracy designed to deal with PSUs, there is inherent mistrust towards private players in the sector despite their proven capacities. The fact is that even though India plans to increase its force levels to 150-160 ships by 2022, the PSU shipyards cannot keep up with the pace of construction due to very high existing workloads and low production capacities. The matter is compounded due to cumbersome procurement procedures and outdated machinery. Consider this: # Production of three Shivalik class frigates was commenced during 2000-2003 with contracted delivery dates in 2008-2009. Two of them were delivered after a decade and the last one still to be handed over. In the meantime, the cost of each ship shot from Rs 2250 crore in January, 1998 to the present Rs 9,000 crore. # Production of three destroyers of proven Delhi class began in 2003-2005 with deliveries in 2009-2012. The first will be delivered at the end of this year and the remaining two to be handed over to Navy in the coming years. The original cost of each destroyer escalated from Rs 3580 crore in May 2001 to present Rs 11,876 crore. # Production contract for six Scorpene submarines was awarded in 2005 end. They were to be delivered from 2010 to 2014. The likely deliveries are now going to take place from 2016 to 2021 after a delay of ten years. # The first Brahmputra class of frigate (project P-16A) was delivered after twelve years of building period. Sister ship INS Betwa was delivered after 16 years of commencement of production and the third ship INS Beas was delivered after 17 years of commencement of production. There are many other instances that reveal that all is not well with Indian naval prowess with Navy lacking the teeth to strike. While the Indian Navy is going to be a proud owner of Russian built Akula class nuclear submarine soon, it is still to acquire long legs needed to become a deterrent to the growing PLA Navy. With the PLA shifting its focus from land to naval forces, it is time that the Indian Navy got its act together. The government needs to be open to warship building in private sector and shed the PSU protection attitude as the latter just do not have the capacities. Given that Indiaâ€™s stated area of influence is from Gulf of Aden to the narrow Malacca Straits, New Delhi simply needs more surface combats. Otherwise, the Chinese are coming and in a big way.