The Indian Navy is the 5th largest Navy in the world. This fast growing Navy has set its goals high by proclaiming itself a “Blue Water” Navy, with its area of operation extending right from The Gulf of Aden in the West upto the parts of the South China Sea in the East. While the dynamic range of the areas of responsibility of the Indian Navy is impressive, the force is marred with several issues, that are a major cause of concern. What is stopping our brilliant men and women in White, from turning into a truly daunting force?
The problem, in fact, truly lies within the country. Technology. The battles at sea of today, are far removed from what the Bismarck probably underwent. Technology today is the forerunner of any form of engagement. Out of all 3 defence forces, the Indian navy is perhaps the most sophisticated. Communicating with Software Defined Radios boasting of speeds of up to six mega bits per second, the Indian Navy could perhaps well be the next Airtel poster boy!
While the Navy has made huge strides in modernisation of its weapon and sensor suite, perhaps a few contractual errors have led to a certain degree of failure in terms of maintenance of these fine ships and systems within. From lack of trained manpower to inadequate or wrongly stocked spares, it is a wonder how our Navy remains in shape ‘S1A1’.
Plight of Indian Submarines
While the surface and air arms of the Navy are still reasonably placed, it is the sentinels of the deep, the lethal submarine arm, that bears gruesome testimony to the gross neglect in maintenance. And it is not just the Navy’s fault, but failure of an entire system comprising of the bureaucracy and the famed ‘babus’ of South Block.
There was this old nursery rhyme which went, ‘For want of a nail, the battle was lost’ and the situation, especially for the submarine arm, is tantalisingly close. While thankfully we are nowhere near the the situation faced by Lt Cdr Thomas Dodge in Down Periscope, its time some concrete actions were taken. Our well placed sources claim that out of a fleet of 14 submarines, hardly 2 or 3 are operational at any given time. A ship in refit is the Christmas Tree, which undergoes barbaric ‘cannibalisation’ to ensure that the others can float.
Technology Development Fund
It is very heartening to see that the government through the DRDO initiated a Technology
Development Fund (TDF). In order to promote self reliance in Defence Technology, this fund has been setup keeping MSMEs and startups in mind. Out of a total of 12 projects for which Acceptance Of Necessity has been accorded, 4 pertain to the Navy. While it is heartening to note that the Navy is looking at joining the data science bandwagon through its ambitious data fusion project, unfortunately, none of the projects look at solving any existing problem, which quite logically, is the need of the hour. The ailing submarine arm continues to get a step motherly treatment.
While Israel continues to be the Startup capital of the World, India is not too far behind.
Technology and data driven startups need to be leveraged to bring about a drastic change. While the government has played its part by streamlining procedures for supporting startups, it is time for the Navy to logically conclude this brilliant initiative by extending the arm of support. The pains and niggles of the submarines can easily be addressed by these young startups fuelled on hard core technology. The CIA is believed to have nurtured a fledgling startup which today stands as Palantir.
Untapped potential of start-ups
Despite Mr Elon Musk’s fear of killer robots becoming a reality, AI and machine learning can today be leveraged as major performance enhancers in virtually all Naval domains. One start-up in Israel provides state of the art maritime anomaly detection. It aggregates and analyses the maritime data and draws actionable images of what is exactly happening at the sea. Indian startups are excelling in unmanned aerial and sub sea vehicles. Our image recognition algorithms are being used by the likes of Facebook and Google.
Young startups are today providing portable and hardened video streaming solutions using the latest video encoders beating military grade standards. The Office of Naval Research, United States, came out with a broad announcement way back in Sep 2014 for advanced analytics and data science for naval warfare planning and execution. Traditionally all major technologies in the world have come from the defence forces, but it looks like we are going to loose in the big data race. Smarter navies are leveraging this new found oil to fuel their technological advancement and its time we did it to.
The Navy has a unique audio synchronisation mechanism comprising of three “now”s spoken akin to a “1-2-3” START! Well, the third “Now” is here. Now is the time to support the government’s initiatives by accepting schemes like the TDF in body and spirit. Nurturing and hand holding is what the startups need, and they can truly lead the way towards the future.