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To counter mines, Navy explores unmanned, underwater options

The Navy is exploring alternative methods to protect its warships and ports as plans to procure a new class of mine hunting warships — in the works since 2005 — have seen limited movement.

Sources told ET that innovative solutions are being considered, including procurement of unmanned vessels and underwater systems to protect warships, besides the induction of ‘clip on’ suites that can be used by individual vessels.

The Navy is looking for ‘man out of the loop’ solutions that could involve autonomous systems that are being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as well as foreign vendors, sources said.

Left without a single mine counter measure vessel in its fleet after the retirement of the INS Kozhikode in April, the Navy has ordered special suites for some of its warships – sensors that can be fitted to provide limited mine detection capability. These ‘solo suites’ could also be increased in the future.

The Navy’s experience with adding mine hunting vessels has been bitter, with several rounds of setbacks. The government has nominated Goa Shipyard Limited (GSL) for the Rs 32,000-crore project to construct 12 mine hunters but the yard has been unable to decide on a foreign technology partner.

Minesweepers are specialised warships that are used to clear harbours and other critical areas of mines laid by enemy submarines or vessels. As reported by ET, India has been trying unsuccessfully since 2005 to find replacements, with its dealings with South Korean firm Kangnam hitting controversy at least twice.

In the first instance, the Korean firm was dropped by the UPA government after allegations surfaced that it had appointed ‘consultants’ for the contract, in a violation of Indian procurement norms. A second round of negotiations broke down in 2017 after talks failed on technology transfer.

GSL made another attempt in 2018 to rope in a foreign collaborator, with responses received from Italy and Russia but a final choice has not been made. Sources said that some technical requirements that were seen as being too restrictive are now being eased up to ensure a more competitive process with multiple bidders.

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