Almost a year-and-a-half after he visited India’s mighty aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to address the combined commanders’ conference on board the ship off the Kerala coast.
The decision to hold the conference onboard the carrier is an outcome of his appeal during the first such conference he attended in October last year that the Conferences should be organized alternately on sea, in forward Army camps and at air bases, and not just in Delhi. And while Navy has become the first service to host the PM, the two services will follow the suit and host the conferences at different formations in the years to follow.
The reason for choosing INS Vikramaditya is more logistical than strategic, says an officer. The conference will be attended by the senior most hierarchy of the defence forces.
“Amongst those likely to remain present are defence minister Manohar Parrikar, defence secretary G Mohan Kumar, three service chiefs as well as their principal staff officers besides others. The only Naval platform that can substitute for such a large area for such a gathering is an aircraft carrier. And therefore INS Vikramaditya,” he said.
According to some however, the PM’s decision to hold the conference onboard the vessel off Kochi has an important signal. “It indicates the importance the present government attaches to the seas and especially the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which has gained tremendous importance in light of the US re-balance, trade as well as the Chinese footprints in the region,” an official said.
This is also Modi’s first visit to Kerala. While he is slated to address the services community on board the vessel, the Navy has planned a fire demonstration to update the PM on the capability of the potent platform and its allied subunits, say Navy sources.
While the conference is likely to serve as a review of the operational preparedness of the three services besides the Make in India initiative of the government, the PM’s visit to the carrier ship — an acquisition from Russia — may also update the highest office of the government on the status of country’s two carrier ships. While the Navy has always envisaged that it should have three operational carriers — one each for the eastern and western seaboard, and one in the dock, it has never been able to achieve the desired numbers due to delays in development of its homemade carriers. Presently it has only two operational carriers — INS Viraat and Vikramaditya. While INS Viraat, its oldest serving carrier retires mid next year, Vikramaditya is slated for an overhaul in September next, thus leaving the Navy with a concern regarding its carrier strength.