Surface Forces: December 19, 2004

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: India is opening a new, 11,070-acre, naval base, INS Seabird, in Karwar, a city about 500 kilometers down the coast from the main base on Indias west coast, Mumbai (Bombay). Officially, the base is being opened to relieve congestion at Mumbai. Ships will start using the base in January, and by the second half of 2005, vessels will be stationed there.

Features of this base include a shiplift system capable of lifting ships as large as 10,000 tons, which means any surface vessel, except Indias carriers and replenishment ships, can be lifted. This is going to allow maintenance of smaller vessels, like the Delhi-class destroyers, Talwar-class frigates, and Khukri-class corvettes, to take place at INS Seabird, freeing up dock space in Mumbai for larger vessels like the Viraat and the Admiral Gorshkov (a refurbished Kiev-class carrier whose new Indian name is not yet determined). A naval air station for helicopters used by ships home-ported at the new base, will be constructed 24 kilometers away from the new port. India has not announced which ships will move to Karwar.

Plans for this new naval base kicked around since the 1970s, and was approved in 1985. But actual work did not start until October 1999, due to financial constraints. Like many Indian projects, initial cost estimates have proven to be pretty far on the low side in this case, the final cost is 10,000 percent of the original estimate (the original estimate was $79.4 million, the bases total cost is currently expected to be $7.94 billion, with the initial construction phase costing $567 million). This is due to the drawn out schedule something that has plagued other Indian defense programs.

A major advantage of Karwar brings is  that it will be outside the range of Pakistani ballistic missiles (assuming a launch from Karachi), with the possible exception of the Hatf-5/Ghauri, a derivative of the North Korean Nodong missile. By moving a portion of the forces at Mumbai 500 kilometers further away, Indias Navy has become a much harder target for a Pakistani nuclear strike, yet very little flexibility has been lost in terms of deploying for combat against Pakistan in the event of war. Other functions could also move to Karwar as well, including the headquarters of the Indian Navys Western Command. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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