Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee opened the first phase of India’s giant western naval base INS Kadamba in Karwar, Karnataka state, on May 31/05, saying it would protect the country’s Arabian Sea maritime routes. Kadamba has become India’s 3rd operational naval base, after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. It is valuable for its location, and also for its ability to transcend the fundamental capacity and security limitations of India’s other 2 naval bases.
INS Kadamba is being built near Karwar in the southern state of Karnataka. That Phase I construction was just part of India’s ambitious “Project Seabird,” a potential INR 50+ billion project that will include the naval base, and much more besides. India finished a scaled-back Phase I a full decade after the originally-envisaged 1995 completion date. As might be expected in India, Phase II is going forward at last, long after it was supposed to have been finished.
INS Kadamba, at Karwar
Rationale & Role
Kadamba has many virtues, but none loom larger than helping Navy decongest Mumbai on its northwest coast. Mumbai is close to Pakistan, but its heavy merchant shipping traffic, even heavier swarms of fishing and coastal craft, and large tourist draw make securing the naval base it very difficult – as India’s experience in the 1971 war with Pakistan proved. Throw in nearby oil terminal hazards, the constant need for dredging the long, shallow fairway to the sea, the need to berth submarines alongside normal ships, and no dedicated airfield, and Mumbai’s limitations become clear.
Visakhapatnam on the east coast houses Eastern Naval Command, and recently saw INS Rambilli added on the grounds improve submarine hosting. Even so, Visakhapatnam’s own breakneck growth as a city will limit how much more can be done with that base. More to the point, it’s poorly placed if India’s goal is to guard against Pakistan, act against piracy, and monitor its 3 key shipping chokepoints to the west: The Persian Gulf, Suez and the Red Sea, and the Cape of Good Hope.
INS Kadamba is the antidote to these problems: a naval-only west coast installation with depth, cover, and the accompanying facilities needed by a blue-water navy. Sandwiched between the craggy hills of the Western Ghats in the east, and the Arabian Sea in the west, Karwar’s position just south of Goa province, and NW of Bangalore, is an excellent naval location. Encompassing over 11,200 acres of land along a 26-km stretch of sea front, Kadamba, named after the famous 4th century dynasty, is the first base to be exclusively controlled by India’s Navy. The depth and width of the base’s approach channel means that all of India’s naval platforms will be able to sail into its harbor. Its hilly terrain offers excellent cover for ground installations, and pens cut into the rock face could conceal submarines.
The final base will be a linchpin of India’s naval presence, and its facilities offer a secure base for cooperation with other navies in the region. India’s new aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya is also scheduled to berth here once she arrives in early 2014, and India’s future SSK Scorpene Class diesel-electric attack submarines will also be based here once deliveries begin in 2016. Nor will they be alone. When Phase IIB expansions are complete, INS Kadamba is slated to be able to handle up to 50 front-line warships, plus at least 10 fast-interceptor craft (FICs), to be acquired for the Sagar Prahari Bal coastal security force.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the new deep-water port of Gwadar is slated for use by its Chinese government financiers, who have their own vested interest in securing maritime routes to and from the Arabian Sea. Pakistan has a much smaller coastline, but a more prudently dispersed naval posture, with naval bases at Gwadar, Ormara, and Karachi, alonside more austere facilities at Pasni and Jiwani.
INS Kadamba: Expansion
At commissioning under Commodore K.P. Ramachandran, INS Kadamba had a strength of 50 officers and 250 sailors, a number that will rise as facilities are upgraded. The base was initially under the command of “Commanding Officer, INS Kadamba”, but is slated to be headed by a “Flag Officer Commanding (Karwar)”, who in turn will be tasked by the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief for India’s Western Naval Command.
Phase I opened the base in 2007, with space for up to 11 front-line warships and 10 smaller FIC-type boats. Key facilities include the 10,000 tonne, 175 m x 28 m ship lift and ship transfer system for dry docking at the Naval ship Repair Yard. A new hospital, INHS Patanjali, has an initial capacity of 141 beds, upgradeable to 400. It will be accompanied by ammunition storage, depot ship, parade ground, drill shed, a logistics complex, an officers’ mess, base barracks for sailors, and even an accompanying township.
The township is slated to eventually include married accommodation for officers and sailors, a shopping complex, a Sailors Institute, schools, a family clinic, gardens, parks etc.
Phase II would have involved expansion of the berthing facilities to accommodate 40 more front-line warships, tugs and barges, raised manpower to 300 officers and around 2,500 sailors, and built a naval air station with a 6,000-foot runway. The Karnataka state government wanted to go further, extending the runway to 10,000 feet in order to operate civilian commercial Airbus 320 flights at the airfield. Phase II was to have started in 2005 and been completed by 2010, at a cost of INR 25 billion. Now Phase IIA won’t even have approval to negotiate contracts until 2012, for work totaling an estimated INR 130 billion. Those contracts won’t even begin before 2014.
Under Phase-IIA is scheduled to last until 2018-2019, but delays at the beginning are likely to translate into delays on the other end. Karwar will get an air base for helicopters only, oil dump, armament depot, dockyard complex and missile silos; plus additional jetties, berthing and anchorage facilities that will grow its capacity from 10-11 front-line warships to 26-31.
Phase IIB is still far in the future, but notional figures involve hosting for up to 50 front-line warships, and appropriate expansion of other infrastructure alongside those added berths. It may also end up “acquiring” some of Phase IIA’s features, if that expansion runs into problems.
Contracts and Key Events
2011 – 2013
Approval, but no action yet on revised Phase IIA.
Dec 15/13: Update. Almost a year after the Cabinet approval, which was already late by years, the Navy may finally identify the contractors it will allow to bid on Project Seabird Phase IIA work at Karwar. They’re reviewing submissions from the September 2013 Expressions of Interest.
In fairness, the naval base’s expansion plans have been slowed by budget cuts. The INR 130 billion project will include an expected 10-12 regular berths, 6-8 dry berths, ship-lift, oil dump, and weapons depot.
Unfortunately for the Karnataka regional government, which expected a full airfield that could handle civilian flights, the Navy has downsized its airfield plans to helicopter facilities only. The INS Hansa station in nearby Goa is currently the home of Indian naval aviation, and will remain their exclusive west coast facility even after INS Vikramaditya arrives at Karwar in February 2014. Sources: Deccan Herald, “Navy takes steps to augment Karwar base capacity”.
May 20/12: The Times of India:
“The [INR 13,000 crore] Phase-IIA expansion of Karwar base, which gives the country both strategic depth and operational flexibility on the western seaboard, is being sent to the Cabinet Committee on Security for the final nod after defence minister A K Antony approved it last week, sources said.”
We caution, again, regarding the different operational definition of “soon” in India.
Oct 13/11: Update. Indian defense minister AK Antony says that INS Kadamba is now operational, adding that he has approved Phase II plans and will soon bring them before the Union government cabinet. The cost is reported to be around Rs 13,000 crore (currently about $2.735 billion), and after its completion, the base will grow its capacity from 11 major warships to 27. That’s going to be necessary, as the Times of India explains:
“Navy’s ongoing warship, submarine and maritime aircraft acquisition programmes as well as other projects in the pipeline will together cost upwards of Rs 3,00,000 crore… already has 50 ships “on order”, which includes aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (refitted Admiral Gorshkov) and three Talwar-class stealth frigates being built in Russia… domestic shipyards, include the indigenous aircraft carrier, six submarines, seven guided-missile destroyers and four anti-submarine warfare corvettes, among others… Navy will, of course, need much larger manpower than the existing 60,000 uniformed personnel, including around 8,000 officers, an expanded Karwar naval base in coastal Karnataka as well as new forward operating bases, operational turnaround bases and naval air enclaves on both the mainland as well as island territories.”
2006 – 2010
Phase I completed; Phase II goes nowhere slowly.
April 15/10: Update. Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma is quoted by the Times of India as saying that:
“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 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… 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.”
Note the Dec 3/05 and July 23/07 entries, which also said that plans were being finalized.
Feb 2/10: Security. An unethical chain of contractors create a significant breach of security at the base. The Hindu reports that a chain of labor contractors sold them, though many of the girls who were with them allegedly disappeared in Vijayawada and Kadapa. A local labor contractor finally took custody of them, which is where the security issues began:
“In a shocking incident, some labourers from Jharkhand entered the high security INS Kadamba in Karwar without proper documents and proper authorisation by the Navy, and worked there for more than one month. The incident came to light when 17 labourers – 11 girls and six boys – of a total of 32 persons who entered the naval base, escaped from the highly guarded area only to appear in the nearby Post-Chendia village on Sunday evening.
One month ago, they were taken to the naval base by the local contractor and were given entry inside the restricted area. According to the labourers, they were made to work overtime, were provided food but were not given a salary. They were also not allowed to go out of the naval base.”
Dec 5/09: The Hindu reports that India’s Ministry of Defence has approved the expansion of INS Kadamba. Its current Commodore, Rajiv Jaiswal, is quoted as saying that work requires only the approval of funds, and will include an airport at Alageri village near Ankola, a dockyard, accommodation for staff, and an airbase.
July 23/07: Phase I done. India’s domain-b reports that INS Kadamba’s harbor has been built, including a 420 x 185 meter jetty, berthing facilities for 10 ships, accommodation and facilities for over 1,000 personnel, and a modern naval ship repair yard with an INR 1.57 billion shiplift system, the only one of its kind in India. The armament depot is “to start operating in just a few months.”
Phase II, was to have started in 2005 and been completed by 2010, at a cost of INR 25 billion. “At present, the Navy is in the process of submitting the plans to the government, and the Cabinet Committee on Security is expected to clear it by the end of 2007.”
Phase I done,
Phase II late
Dec 26/06: Hospital. The hospital INHS Patanjali is commissioned, with an initial capacity for 141 beds. The hospital features an in-patient ward, a state-of-the-art ICU (Intensive Care Unit), operation theaters, a laboratory, radiological diagnostic equipment and high-tech dental equipment. Special features include 4 operating theaters with steel cladding, epoxy flooring and modern monitors, 100 and 300 mA X-ray facility, color doppler, neonatal incubators, state-of-the-art physiotherapy equipment and dental chairs with RVG digital radiography systems. Organisations involved in its construction and setup included Mecon Limited, the medical division of Larsen & Toubro, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), Godrej, Narula Udyog, and ABB of India. Source.
1985 – 2005
From approval to formal opening, 10 years late.
Dec 3/05: The Deccan Herald reports that Project Seabird Phase I is only expected to be complete by the end of 2006, but INS Adithya is scheduled to arrive in December 2005, and ship repair work will start from January or February 2006.
Commodore K P Ramachandran is quoted as saying that ship-lift tests have already begun at the base, in preparation for these changes, and that India’s defence ministry is in the process of finalizing the plans for the second phase.
May 31/05: Formal opening. Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee opens the results of INS Kadamba’s first construction phase. A total of 6 frontline Indian naval ships, including frigates and destroyers, are on hand for the event. They were detached from the flotilla of 12 vessels that are presently taking part in routine exercises in the Arabian Sea.
Mr. Mukherjee admitted that the base project has had to overcome many impediments and delays since it was sanctioned by the government in 1985. The fact that it was originally slated for completion in 1995 would seem to suggest this, yes. Agence France Presse | India’s Business Standard | Defense India | The Hindu (run-up) | The Hindu (dedication) | Frontline Magazine | Rediff.
Nov 14/04: The first Indian naval ship enters the harbor. Source.
1999: Work begins. Work finally begins.
Aug 6/98: India’s Ministry of Defence and the Government of Karnataka sign a Memorandum of Understanding on an enhanced rehabilitation package for the families that will be displaced by the Indian Navy’s proposed INR 250 billion ‘Project Sea Bird’ at Karwar. The Indian Navy says that 4,111 families living in 13 villages were relocated. Rehabilitation costs eventually rise to INR 1.26 billion.
1995: Phase I-. A truncated Phase-I is approved. Media reports vary wildly, but the most reliable figure is INR 24.8 billion (Rs 2,480 crore).
1990: Projected project cost increases to INR 9.5 billion with the finalization of the detailed project report. Source.
Oct 24/86: Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi lays the foundation stone. Source.
1985: Initial approval. Project Seabird is approved by the Indian government, at an initial cost estimate of INR 3.5 billion. It’s supposed to be complete by 1995, but Budgetary constraints derail the project for a decade.
Additional Readings and Sources
* Indian Navy – INS Kadamba
* Bharat Rakshak – Project Seabird at Karwar [JPG]. Graphic and Map of the proposed facilities.
* South Asian Analysis Group (June 4/05) – Strategic Significance of the Naval Base INS Kadamba
* Frontline Magazine (May 21/05 – June 03/05) – A base for a blue-water navy
* Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (Dec 13/04) – Project Seabird: An Example of India’s Maritime Prowess
* Frontline Magazine (Dec 20/03 – Jan 02/04) – Seabird on Course
* Nationmaster.com – Gwadar: General Background