Navy priority signal to eastern ports New Delhi, Aug. 8: The government has asked all ports in the east coast barring Visakhapatnam to give priority to the Indian Navy because a sharp rise in the number of warships is leading to congestion and slowing down operational turnaround. So long, a second to the â€œsword armâ€ that is the Western Naval Command, the Eastern Naval Command has now been given additional resources because China figures larger than ever before in the competition for strategic space in the Indian Ocean region. In May this year, the government upgraded the rank of the chief of staff of the Eastern Naval Command from Rear Admiral to Vice Admiral. The chief of staff (CoS) reports to the flag officer commanding-in-chief east, currently Vice Admiral Anup Singh. The CoS is Vice Admiral Sunil Lamba and the eastern fleet commander is Rear Admiral Harish Chandra Singh Bisht. In the last five years alone, the eastern fleet has been reinforced with 14 major warships â€” including all five Rajput-class guided missile destroyers that were earlier with the western fleet â€” plus a greater number of smaller vessels such as fast-attack craft. The Eastern Command now has more than 50 major warships â€” up from around 30 in 2005 â€” of a total of 170 that makes up the Indian Navyâ€™s total fleet. Among the new additions are the INS Jalashwa amphibious vessel with six onboard helicopters (imported from the US) that is the second largest ship in the navy, the Italy-built fleet tanker INS Shakti and the indigenous stealth frigate, the INS Shivalik. A second Shivalik-class frigate, the INS Satpura, that is to be launched later this month in Mumbai is also likely to be assigned to the eastern fleet. The Eastern Naval Command is headquartered in Visakhapatnam that is also its largest port. But the narrow channel through which ships enter and leave the harbour and the heavy mercantile traffic has made it impossible for authorities to insist that naval warships be given priority there. The security demands of Vizag are also the highest for the navy in the east coast because the naval dockyards there include its submarine base and the ship building centre where the indigenous nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant, was assembled. A second is in the works. Not wanting to increase the concentration in Vizag, the navy wants to spread its resources and thin out threat perception along the east coast. It is working on developing a major base in Andhra, which could take 20 years, and is deploying more warships out of Vizag to Calcutta, Paradeep, Tuticorin, Kakinada and Chennai to ensure faster turnaround. Getting additional berths in Calcutta is out of the question because of the Calcutta portâ€™s multiple problems. The navy is now looking at developing additional facilities in Orissa and Andhra. The navy has proposed operating bases and turnaround facilities in Gangavaram, just north of Vizag, and Krishnapatnam. It has also proposed a major base in Andhra. The navy is likely to assign the only aircraft carrier in its fleet, the INS Viraat, to the eastern command after the delivery of INS Vikramaditya (erstwhile INS Gorshkov) from Russia. The schedule is delayed by two years and it is now likely to be delivered only in 2013. The bolstering of the eastern fleet is partly propelled by Chinaâ€™s increasing footprint. China has acquired or is developing bases in Myanmar and is building a port in Hambantota, on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. Besides, the Indian Navy has decided that Chinaâ€™s cat-and-mouse games with the US Navy in the South China Sea and its prolonged deployment in counter-piracy patrols off the east coast of Africa is a sign not only of newly acquired maritime capabilities but also of Beijingâ€™s willingness to exhibit a new aggressiveness.