The first section of what will be the Indian Navy’s largest naval base is on track to be completed by the end of 2006.
When fully operational by 2010, the base here in southern India will be home to all of the Navy’s nuclear weapons and the ships, planes and missiles that carry them. The base will host 45 warships, submarines and an aircraft carrier. Aircraft at its air station will include Sea Harriers, MiG-29 fighters, Dornier-228 light transport aircraft, Advanced Light Helicopters and Sea King, Kamov-28 and Kamov-31 helicopters.
Conceived in the early 1980s and slated for completion a decade ago, the base was delayed due to a lack of funding and other resources. The cornerstone for the project was laid in 1986. Officials would not disclose the costs associated with building the base.
Rear Adm. Kattoju Mohanrao, director-general of the Karwar naval base project, said the base will be a separate Navy command.
Built on 11,200 acres of natural harbor, Karwar is on India’s Arabian Sea coast and is 900 nautical miles from Pakistan’s Karachi naval base and 1,500 nautical miles from its new naval base being built at Gwadar.
The first area of the base to be completed will house 11 warships. The port will have lift-and-transfer systems large enough to move any Indian naval vessel onto a land berth for repairs.
An Indian Navy official here said the hilly terrain makes Karwar less vulnerable to missile attacks from Pakistan, and its nearby forest-covered island provides good cover from satellite surveillance.
Another Navy source here said there are plans to install anti-ballistic missile systems here, but would not give details. India has been negotiating to buy U.S. Patriot-2 anti-missile systems and Israeli Arrow-2 systems. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing long-range air defenses based on an advanced Israeli radar, an agency source said. The Indian Navy official would not give details about base logistics or its planned arsenal.
He said the base will play a role in the service’s strategy of “sea denial” to an adversary. In its 1971 war with Pakistan, India used the strategy to bottle up Islamabad’s fleet in Karachi port with missile boat attacks, and to prevent the seaborne escape of Pakistan’s army from Bangladeshi ports.
Nitin Mehta, a New Delhi-based defense analyst, said the Navy would have to install an advanced air-defense system to protect the advanced warships, aircraft carriers and nuclear arsenal there.
In the absence of such a system, the Karwar naval base would not live up to its basic concept, Mehta said, adding that Pakistan has now become nuclear capable, which it was not in 1980 when the port was conceived.