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Saturday, April 17, 2010

After long delay, India moves to expand strategic Karwar naval base

NEW DELHI: India is finally going in for a major expansion of its newest naval base at Karwar in coastal Karnataka, which provides it "strategic depth" on the western seaboard and will house aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the future.

This comes after a long delay since the ambitious `Project Seabird' to build the futuristic Karwar naval base was first approved by the government way back in 1985 at an initial cost of Rs 350 crore.

Budgetary constraints derailed the project for a decade before a truncated Phase-I was approved in 1995, with the work finally commencing in 1999 with a Rs 2,500 crore fund allocation.

"Phase-I is now fully complete. We have 10 warships based there. Now, the detailed project report for Phase-II is in the final stages. After approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security, construction will begin next year,'' Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma told TOI.

Navy will be able to berth 25 to 30 big warships at Karwar after Phase-II gets over by 2017, he added. The base will also house a wide variety of smaller ships, including 10 of the 80 fast-interceptor craft of Sagar Prahari Bal, the specialised force being raised for coastal security after the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai.

Pakistan has already built its new Gwadar deep-sea port with China's help in Baluchistan, which will help the two countries gain a crucial foothold in the Gulf region.

Admiral Verma, on his part, said, "Our maritime perspective plan takes into account the threats we may face in the future.''

With Navy keen to operate two carrier battle groups around 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov and 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier by 2014-2015, the Karwar base is critical for its blue-water operations in Indian Ocean and beyond. The eventual aim is to make it capable of handling as many as 50 frontline warships.

The 130-warship Navy also currently has three destroyers, six guided-missile frigates, six submarines, two fleet tankers, four anti-submarine corvettes, six survey vessels, six fast-attack craft and a sail training ship under construction. Moreover, it's on course to order another four destroyers and seven frigates, among other warships.

Karwar, spread over 4,480 hectares on a 26-km stretch along the coastline at present, is being developed into a major naval base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam for three main reasons.

One, it will "decongest'' the choked Mumbai harbour. Two, Karwar has natural cover and sufficient depth of water available. "Being a deep-water port, submarines can operate with greater stealth from there,'' said an officer.

"Moreover, a dedicated naval base south of Mumbai provides more flexibility of operations and defence in depth for us. During Phase-II, Karwar will get more piers, berthing and anchorage facilities, apart from an airbase, armament depot and missile silos,'' he added.