(This was originally posted in The Hindustan Times by Shishir Gupta)
INS Dhruv That Can Track Satellites, Missiles To Join Navy Soon With India at the centre of the Indo-Pacific pushback to China’s rapidly-expanding People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), India is set to commission INS Dhruv to track satellites, strategic missiles and map the Indian Ocean bed later this year, people aware of the developments said on Wednesday.
The 15,000-tonne ship, part of a classified project, will not only create maritime domain awareness for India in the Indian Ocean but also act as an early warning system for adversary missiles headed towards Indian cities and military establishments. “Final checks are going on the vessel at Vizag before the commissioning, which is expected in the first half of 2021 but neither the date nor the month is decided,” said a senior official familiar with the strategic project.
INS Dhruv has been developed with the help of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Navy with India’s Strategic Force Command and National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) as main intelligence consumers. The indigenously-developed surveillance ship has been built by Hindustan Shipyard Ltd at its Visakhapatnam facility under the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan initiative.
INS Dhruv is equipped with the active electronically scanned array radars, or AESA, considered a game-changer in radar technology, and can scan various spectrums to monitor satellites of adversaries that are watching over India. It can also, as one official in South Block put it, understand the range and true missile capability of adversary nations that it finds in the Indo-Pacific.
Once the vessel is commissioned, India will be the only country outside the P-5 – the US, the UK, China, Russia and France – to have this capability
Officials said INS Dhruv will act as a major force multiplier to India’s ocean surveillance capabilities. The Indian Navy already monitors the region from the Gulf of Aden to all the ingress routes from the South China Sea with long-range unmanned aerial vehicles, surveillance aircraft and Boeing P8I anti-submarine warfare.
It will be able to provide the Indian Navy with an “ECG of the Indian Ocean”, a defence ministry official said, a reference to the electrocardiogram that is used to diagnose problems in the heart. INS Dhruv will help Indian Navy plan better offensive operations in all three dimensions — sub-surface, surface and aerial.
Strengthening the Indian Navy’s capabilities is key to countering China’s influence in the Indian Ocean given how Beijing’s sea doctrine has taken priority over its land forces. Experts believe the Indo-Pacific will be the front-line of the future as PLAN’s nuclear submarines try to avoid detection before crossing the first island chain in the South China Sea.
Although China has claimed that the Quad will never have tangible deliveries – in 2018, China had even called it a seafoam before describing it a security threat two years later – the security grouping is already monitoring the Indo-Pacific and sharing real-time intelligence to check Beijing creation of military leverage over the busiest shipping lanes in the world and carrying billions of dollar worth of cargo.