By N.C Bipindra
(Bloomberg) — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the nation’s largest indigenously built warship as he strives to modernize the armed forces and counter China’s rising maritime power.
The premier brought the INS Kolkata officially into service at a naval dockyard in Mumbai Saturday during a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Arun Jaitley. The 6,800 ton hunter-killer destroyer carries cruise missiles developed with Russia and is the second of five warships the navy is due to induct in 2014.
“With the commissioning of this ship, we are informing the world about India’s defense manufacturing capability and the intellect of its people,” Modi said at the ceremony today. “In the coming years, we aim to be self-reliant in defense manufacturing.”
Modi eased the foreign-investment cap in the defense industry after winning India’s general election by a landslide in May, as he seeks forces that can protect national interest in border disputes and at sea. Today’s event comes about a year after 18 people died in the country’s worst submarine accident, a disaster that cast a cloud over the state of the navy.
“The Kolkata class of warships and others under construction are long overdue,” said P.V.S Satish, a retired Indian navy captain. “I hope Modi and his government will pursue aggressive modernization of the armed forces. This is the need of the nation.”
INS Kolkata is the first of the three-ship Kolkata class of destroyers being built at a total cost of 110 billion rupees ($1.8 billion). Delivery was delayed by two years, according to Indian navy official Rear Admiral A.B. Singh.
The Kolkata-class replaces the Delhi class of destroyers, first commissioned in 1993. Jaitley is scheduled to bring the first of the four-ship, 78.5 billion-rupee Kamorta class of anti-submarine vessels into service officially on Aug. 23.
Modi increased the foreign-investment limit in defense industry joint ventures to 49 percent from 26 percent, while retaining Indian management control to allay security concerns. U.S. companies have said they’d be reluctant to share sensitive defense technology if they don’t have management control.
India surpassed China in 2010 to become the world’s largest arms importer and relies on purchases from abroad for 70 percent of its weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Modi in his Independence Day speech yesterday reiterated that the nation needs to reduce the economy’s dependence on inward shipments.
–With assistance from Unni Krishnan in New Delhi.
Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.