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, Phase II remains tied up, and is likely to be approved after it was supposed to have been finished…
Contracts and Key Events
Kadamba has many virtues, but none loom larger than helping Navy decongest Mumbai, whose heavy merchant shipping traffic, even heavier swarms of fishing and coastal craft, and large tourist draw make it security very difficult – as India’s experience in 1971 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.
INS Kadamba is the antidote: a naval-only 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 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, pens cut into the rock face could conceal submarines.
Additional 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.
According to defense experts, the naval base at Karwar will play a major role in securing the seas not only for India but also for countries like Japan, which rely heavily on shipping for imports and exports through maritime routes in the Arabian Sea.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the new deep-water port of Gwadar is in use by Pakistan – and by its Chinese government financiers, who also rely heavily on shipping for imports and exports through maritime routes in the Arabian Sea.
Commodore K.P. Ramachandran, INS Kadamba’s first Commanding Officer (CO) said that 11 ships could be berthed at Kadamba once the first phase of construction was complete, with the figure going up to 22 after the second phase of construction was completed. Subsequent reports put the Phase II figure at 25-30 ships. The harbour is designed to ultimately berth 42 ships on 11 piers when finally complete, including submarines if need be. The aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov is also scheduled to berth in Kadamba with its MiG-29K wing after it is refurbished, renamed the Vikramaaditya, and handed over to the Indian Navy.
At commissioning INS Kadamba had a strength of 50 officers and 250 sailors, a number that will go up as facilities are upgraded. The base will initially be under the command of the Commanding Officer, INS Kadamba, but will in the near future be headed by a Flag Officer Commanding (Karwar), who in turn will be tasked by the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command.
Phase II will reportedly involve expansion of the berthing facilities to accommodate 25-30 ships, tugs and barges, raise manpower to 300 officers and around 2,500 sailors, and build a naval air station with a 6,000-foot runway will also be part of phase II. The Karnataka state government also wants to operate civilian commercial Airbus 320 flights at the airfield, for which the runway would have to be extended to 10,000 feet.
Contracts and Key Events
April 15/10: 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: 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: India’s domain-b reports that INS Kadamba’s harbour has been built, including a 420×185 metre 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.”
Jan 4/07: The 5,650t amphibious landing vessel INS Shardul becomes the 1st ship commissioned at INS Kadamba. The Hindu.
Dec 26/06: 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 theatres, a laboratory, radiological diagnostic equipment and high-tech dental equipment. Special features include 4 operating theatres with steel cladding, epoxy flooring and modern monitors, 100 and 300 mA X-ray facility, colour 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.
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: Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee opens the first construction phase of INS Kadamba Also taking part in the commissioning are 6 frontline Indian naval ships, including frigates and destroyers. 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 – it was originally slated for completion in 1995. 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 harbour. Source.
1999: 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: 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 finalisation of the detailed project report. Source.
Oct 24/86: Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi lays the foundation stone. Source.
1985 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.